Moorfields conference on children’s vision raises concerns about premature babies and the risk of ‘retinopathy of prematurity’

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Eye experts advise parents of premature babies to seek an eye examination before leaving hospital to help avoid blinding condition

5 April 2016 (Dubai, United Arab Emirates): The recent paediatricsymposium (for more than 70 eye specialists from across the GCC) organised and hosted in Dubai by Moorfields Eye Hospital Dubai (Moorfields), identified premature babies as a special concern, because of their particular vulnerability to retinopathy of prematurity (ROP). ROP is a potentially blinding condition that affects premature babies and is one of the most common causes of visual loss in childhood.

As more premature babies are born in the region, due to the rising standards of neonatal care, more babies are at risk of ROP. The Moorfields symposium called for early screening with an eye examination for all premature babies to detect the condition, before leaving hospital. Recent reports suggest that the prevalence of preterm births at public hospitals in Dubai is roughly 15 to 20 per cent of all deliveries.

Dr. Darakhshanda Khurram, Consultant Paediatric Ophthalmologist at Moorfields Eye Hospital Dubai, explains:”As more and more babies are surviving systemic complications of preterm birth, ROP remains a serious threat to vision for these extremely premature babies. Visual impairment caused by ROP is potentially preventable and early screening and timely treatment is key to successful management. These babies also need regular eye check-ups even after they are discharged from hospital, as they are at high risk of developing other vision abnormalities.”

A full-term pregnancy has a gestation of 38–42 weeks. ROP primarily affects premature infants weighing about 1.5 kilograms or less that are born earlier than 31 weeks of gestation. The smaller a baby is at birth, the more likely the baby is to develop ROP, which usually develops in both eyes and if severe, can lead to lifelong vision impairment and blindness. With advances in neonatal care, smaller and more premature infants are being saved and these infants are at a much higher risk of ROP, although not all premature babies develop ROP. Infants with ROP are considered to be at higher risk for developing certain eye problems later in life, such as retinal detachment, myopia (nearsightedness), strabismus (crossed eyes), amblyopia (lazy eye), and glaucoma. However, many of these eye problems can be treated or controlled.

Dr. Muhammad Irfan Khan, Consultant OphthalmologistSpecialist in Paediatrics, Strabismus and Cataract, Moorfields Eye Hospital Dubai,adds: “Neonatal care in the region is improving and, as a result, we are seeing more premature babies. Parents should be aware of the importance of early eye screening toprevent ROP – a blinding condition that can affect premature babies. This was one of the main medical concerns raised by this group of eye experts at ourrecent symposium. There are clinical guidelines for the hospitals to perform periodic eye examinations of premature babies at risk of developing ROP and we also recommend that parents of premature babies request an eye examination before they are discharged from hospital.”