Asked whether surgery is a common treatment for vision problems in children, ophthalmologist Dr. Pik Sha Chan-Uy of Pacific Eye and Laser Institute reveals that, besides strabismus, eye surgery may be required for congenital cataract, which is a clouding in the lens of the eye that is present at birth (rare), and retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), a disorder affecting the retina of the eyes of premature babies. The retina is the eye’s light-sensitive layer.
According to a study published in the Philippine Journal of Ophthalmology, ROP “is a potentially avoidable cause of blindness in children. The rate of blindness from ROP varies greatly among nations, being influenced both by levels of neonatal care (in terms of availability, access, neonatal outcomes) and by the availability of effective screening and treatment programs. The population of infants who are at risk for blinding ROP has decreased over time in developed countries. In developing countries, such as those in Latin America and Eastern Europe, ROP is emerging as a major cause of blindness and has been referred to as the ‘third epidemic.’”
Catching ROP, according to Dr. Chan-Uy, “is a race.” There are five stages of ROP, and the doctors have to keep close watch on the premature infants to identify the ROP before it develops to Stage IV or V. But what defines these stages? Here’s a rundown from the US National Eye Institute:
1. Stage I shows mildly abnormal retinal blood vessel growth. Babies who develop Stage I ROP usually do not need treatment, and eventually develop normal vision. The disease resolves on its own without further progression.
2. Stage II is characterized by moderately abnormal blood vessel growth. Babies who develop this also improve with no treatment and eventually develop normal vision. The disease also resolves on its own without further progression.
3. Stage III ROP involves severely abnormal blood vessel growth. The abnormal blood vessels grow toward the center of the eye instead of following their normal growth pattern along the surface of the retina. Some infants who develop Stage III improve with no treatment and eventually develop normal vision. When babies have a certain degree of Stage III and the ROP worsens, however, treatment is considered. Treatment at this point has a good chance of preventing retinal detachment.
4. Stage IV refers to a partially detached retina caused by traction that pulls the retina away from the wall of the eye.
5. Stage V refers to a completely detached retina, which is the cause of severe visual impairment or blindness.
“Many parents of premature babies are not aware of what ROP can result to, so we need to get the word out that it’s important for these infants to be checked,” says Dr. Chan-Uy.