Retinopathy of prematurity: 5,000 infants at risk of going blind if disease not detected on time

A study revealed that approximately 275 babies are diagnosed with ROP, highlighting the urgency of early detection and intervention to prevent irreversible vision loss.
Infants born with a gestational age between 34 and 36 weeks are particularly vulnerable to ROP

MUMBAI / April 4, 2024: In 2010, approximately 32,000 cases of blindness and visual impairment worldwide were attributed to retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), a significant concern for premature and low birth weight infants. India bears 10% of this global burden, with 5000 children developing severe ROP annually, resulting in 2900 cases of visual impairment. With a 3% incidence rate of severe ROP, it’s alarming that such a large number of children in the country lose their eyesight yearly due to this preventable cause of childhood blindness. These concerns were raised by doctors at Dr Agarwal’s Eye Hospital in Mumbai ahead of the Prevention of Blindness Week.

Said Dr Priyanka Ganvir, Consultant Ophthalmologist of Dr Agarwals Eye Hospital: “ROP is a critical concern predominantly affecting preterm and low birth weight neonates. It manifests with the formation of new vessels in the retina, often leading to complications such as retinal detachment and eventual blindness. The condition arises due to the immaturity of blood vessels, exacerbated by oxygen toxicity, which poses a significant risk, especially in premature infants.”

She added: “Prevention strategies encompass primary, secondary, and tertiary measures, including efforts to prevent preterm births, early detection of ROP, urgent treatment when necessary, and surgical interventions for retinal detachment. Contributing factors to the increasing incidence of ROP include late referrals, poor follow-up practices, limited awareness among pediatricians, and challenges in managing collateral health issues alongside ROP treatment.”

Said Dr Priyanka Ganvir: “In addition to the urgency of early detection and intervention to prevent irreversible vision loss, it’s crucial to highlight the vulnerability of infants born with a gestational age between 34 and 36 weeks to ROP. This subgroup of premature infants requires heightened attention and proactive screening measures due to their increased susceptibility to developing ROP-related complications.”

The doctor said efforts to mitigate ROP’s impact in India face various challenges, including inadequate follow-up protocols, delayed referrals, low awareness among medical professionals, and the complexity of managing concurrent health issues. Screening and treatment methods, such as indirect ophthalmoscopy or retinal imaging, play a pivotal role in preventing permanent vision loss in affected infants. Timely screening, often before discharge from the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) or within 30 days of birth, coupled with appropriate management decisions based on screening results, are crucial in averting vision-threatening complications.

Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP) is a serious condition affecting the retina, particularly in premature infants with low birth weight. This ailment poses a significant risk of vision loss and, if left untreated, can result in permanent blindness. Although ROP is often associated with premature birth, it is not entirely preventable. Fortunately, timely intervention, typically within a few weeks of birth, can effectively treat ROP and prevent irreversible vision impairment. Treatment options for ROP include laser therapy and intravitreal injections. In severe cases, vitreoretinal surgery may be necessary to address total retinal detachment, thereby averting permanent blindness.

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