Eye experts advise parents of premature babies to seek an eye examination before leaving hospital to help avoid blinding condition
29 May 2016 (Dubai, United Arab Emirates): Moorfields Eye Hospital Dubai, the first overseas branch of the world-renowned Moorfields Eye Hospital in London, has identified premature babies as a special concern in the region when it comes to vision problems, 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.
According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, some countries in the region (such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait) have severe incidence of ROP. Worldwide, every year, an estimated 15 million babies are born preterm (before 37 completed weeks of gestation), and this number is rising. Across 184 countries, the rate of preterm birth ranges from 5% to 18% of babies born.
According to the World Health Organisation, preterm babies are at increased risk of illness, disability and death. Retinopathy of prematurity is usually more severe in very premature babies and if they are given too-high level of oxygen. If not recognized and treated, his can result in visual impairment or blindness.
With the Middle East’s rising population and the rising standards of neonatal care, an increasing number of babies are at risk of ROP. In the region, Moorfields Dubai conducted an international medical symposium on ROP and called for early screening with an eye examination for all premature babies to detect the condition, before leaving hospital.
Dr. Muhammad Irfan Khan, Consultant Ophthalmologist Specialist in Paediatrics, Strabismus and Cataract, Moorfields Eye Hospital Dubai, explains: “Neonatal care in the region is improving and, as a result, we are seeing more premature babies and so more complications of preterm birth, including ROP which remains a serious threat to vision. Visual impairment caused by ROP is potentially preventable and early screening and timely treatment is key to successful management.”
Dr. Darakhshanda Khurram, Consultant Paediatric Ophthalmologist at Moorfields Eye Hospital Dubai, adds: “Parents should be aware of the importance of early eye screening and we recommend that parents of premature babies request an eye examination before they are discharged from hospital. 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 visual impairment and blindness.
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.