In the United States, 1 in 10 babies is born premature. Premature babies face a number of health challenges that could impact their overall wellness and development, including vision quality. Since the eyes do most of their development in the final three months of pregnancy, eye care issues for premature babies must be taken seriously.
Dr. Eric J. Del Piero and Dr. Leland H. Rosenblum have worked with a number of parents and their children to improve and restore vision. It’s part of Monterey County Eye Associates’ commitment to effective pediatric eye care for babies and K-6 children. The team at our Monterey, CA eye care center would like to consider some potential vision problems experienced by premature babies and what can be done to diagnose and treat these vision issues.
Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP)
An issue that often affects babies born earlier than 31 weeks or who weigh less than 2.75 pounds, retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) refers to abnormal growth of the blood vessels of the eyes. This can lead to retinal damage and vision loss, possibly even retinal detachment.
Treatment for Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP)
Of the 14,000 to 16,000 cases of ROP each year, the majority of cases are mild and will not necessarily affect vision with regular treatment for premature birth. Many premature babies are given extra oxygen, which helps improve the development of retinal blood vessels.
Only 1,100 to 1,500 cases of ROP each year will require advanced treatment beyond extra oxygen. These treatments may include vitrectomy, scleral buckling, cryotherapy, or photocoagulation.
Strabismus (Crossed Eyes)
Crossed eyes occur when one eye is not aligned with the other. This is often because cranial nerves that control eye movement are not in sync. This can affect vision and appearance. Low birth weight is a risk factor for strabismus, and is a common issue among babies who were born prematurely.
ROP can also contribute to a child developing strabismus if the cild suffers retinal damage at a young age.
Treatment for Strabismus (Crossed Eyes)
Treatment for crossed eyes typically involves blocking the stronger eye using an eye patch. The young patient’s weaker eye will develop compensatory strength when it is forced to be used on its own. With time, the weaker eye will no longer appear crossed.
In some cases of strabismus, surgery may be required on the muscles around the eyes. This is done if the non-surgical treatment proves ineffective or limited in its effectiveness.
Retinal detachment associated with ROP can lead to blindness, but there are many other ways in which a premature baby can lose their vision. Given the amount of eye development that occurs in the last three months of a pregnancy, there is the risk that a child may be born with their eyes only partially developed, which can result in the loss of vision or serious vision impairment.
Treating Blindness at Birth
When dealing with blindness at birth or a young age, it’s important to identify the root causes of the vision loss and consider different ways to aid in daily vision and improve baseline vision quality. Assistive devices, non-surgical therapies, and advanced surgical treatment may be needed.
By working with pediatric eye care specialists, these problems can be treated as soon as possible, improving your child’s eye health in a way that can enhance their overall quality of life for the years to come.
Speak with Our Eye Care Specialists
For more information about treating eye care issues in premature babies, be sure to contact our team of eye care specialists. We will work with you to address the needs of your child. You can reach Monterey County Eye Associates by phone at (831) 375-2020.