World Prematurity Day – Visual issues associated with prematurity

Today, November 17, is World Prematurity Day (yes, the byline for this blog says Nov. 18, but it’s still the 17th where I am).  It’s a day to focus attention on the global problem of premature births.  Many of the readers of this site and our facebook group have children who were born premature.  To them, it will not come as a surprise that prematurity is closely linked with vision problems

Retinopathy of Prematurity

The vision problem that most people associate with prematurity is Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP).  ROP occurs in around half of all infants who weigh less than 2.75 pounds (1250 grams) at birth and are born before 31 weeks gestation.  It is thought that the eye finishes developing in the last weeks of pregnancy, and that in babies born prematurely, the edge of the retina does not have adequate blood vessels, and so abnormal blood vessels form, which can lead to retinal scarring and detachment.  The good news is that 90% of infants born with ROP have a mild case which improves on its own and leaves no permanent damage.  For more severe cases, treatment involves laser or cryotherapy to remove the affected outer edges of the retina.

Other vision issues

While ROP is the most well known vision issue associated with prematurity, children born preterm are at higher risk of many other vision issues as well.  An article in Nature notes that studies looking at children aged 7-10 years old, found that those born prematurely had a much higher incidence of many vision issues, including:

  • myopia
  • hyperopia
  • strabismus
  • astigmatism
  • anisometropia (large difference in prescription between the two eyes)

Read more

National Eye Institute.  Facts about Retinopathy of Prematurity. 2009.

O’Connor, AR, Wilson, CM, Fielder, AR.  Ophthalmological problems associated with preterm birth.  Eye. 2007.  Vol. 21, 1254-1260.

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