Early Treatment Key for Infant Eye Disease

Catching retinopathy quickly may prevent severe vision loss in preemies

MONDAY, Dec. 8, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- Early treatment of retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), a blinding disease that affects premature, low birthweight babies, can prevent severe vision loss.

That news comes in a study in the December issue of the Archives of Ophthalmology.

ROP causes abnormal blood vessels to grow in the back of the eye. These blood vessels leak fluid and scare nerve tissue inside the eye. This leads to an increased risk of retinal detachment and severe vision loss.

The disease can be unpredictable. That makes treatment decisions difficult for doctors. In many infants, the disease spontaneously regresses and spares their vision. In others, ROP progresses and leads to serious vision problems.

Because it was difficult to predict which infants would eventually suffer severe ROP-related vision loss, ophthalmologists had to defer treatment until it was clearly indicated. But delaying therapy can lead to poor outcomes for infants who might benefit from early treatment with laser therapy or cryotherapy.

Laser therapy uses heat from light energy while cryotherapy uses freezing temperatures to impede blood vessel growth. These treatments cause partial loss of peripheral vision.

This new study says premature infants will retain better vision when they receive treatment in the early stages of ROP. The study concluded this approach is better than waiting until ROP has reached the traditional treatment threshold.

It found that early treatment reduced the likelihood of poor vision from 19.5 percent to 14.5 percent at about 1 year of age. It also reduced the likelihood of structural damage to the eye from 15.6 percent to 9.1 percent.

The study also established the value of an improved computerized risk assessment model to more accurately identify infants with the greatest risk of suffering severe vision loss from ROP.

The study was sponsored by the U.S. National Eye Institute.

More information

Here's where you can learn more about ROP.

SOURCE: U.S. National Eye Institute, news release, Dec. 8, 2003
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