Early treatment of blinding eye disease in infants can prevent severe vision loss

An important clinical trial, sponsored by the National Eye Institute (NEI), a part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has provided doctors with improved prognostic indicators and treatment options for retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), a blinding disease that affects premature, low birthweight infants. ROP spurs the growth of abnormal blood vessels in the back of the eye. These vessels leak fluid and blood and scar the nerve tissue inside the eye, increasing the risk of retinal detachment and severe vision loss in infants.

Because it follows an unpredictable course, ROP presents doctors with difficult treatment decisions. In many infants the disease spontaneously regresses and spares vision. However, in some infants ROP progresses, resulting in serious visual impairment. Although current therapy can stem its progression, many infants are still blinded by the disease. Due to a lack of clinical criteria to predict which patients will ultimately develop severe vision loss from ROP, ophthalmologists were forced previously to defer treatment until it was clearly indicated. Unfortunately, as it turns out, delaying therapy can leave infants who might benefit more from early treatment with poor visual outcomes.

The Early Treatment for Retinopathy of Prematurity (ETROP) study results, published in the December issue of the Archives of Ophthalmology, demonstrated that premature infants, who are at the highest risk for developing vision loss from ROP, will retain better vision when therapy is administered in the early stage of the disease. This treatment approach was found to be better than waiting until ROP has reached the traditional treatment threshold. Just as importantly, the study also established the value of an improved risk assessment model to more accurately identify those infants who are at the highest risk for developing severe vision loss from ROP.

"Premature, low birthweight infants face a host of medical comp

Contact: Ruth Poole
Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute

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