Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) is a sight-threatening condition that affects the retinas of premature infants, as a result of incomplete development of the blood vessels within the eye. While retinal blood vessels usually finish developing by the time of birth, premature infants may be born before this occurs. Improperly developed blood vessels may be exposed to high levels of oxygen, which can in turn lead to abnormal blood vessel growth on the surface of the retina.
ROP is one of the most common causes of childhood visual loss, and occurs most often in infants who weigh less than three pounds or who were born before the 31st week of pregnancy. All premature infants should be screened for ROP, as the condition sometimes does not present itself until several weeks after birth. If diagnosed, frequent monitoring is required to determine if the condition will regress on its own or require treatment to reduce the risk of vision loss and other complications.