Preterm babies are at an increased risk of eye problems. If your baby weighed less than 1,500g at birth or was born before 32 weeks, an eye specialist (an ophthalmologist) should check your baby for retinopathy of preterm (ROP). Routine checks for ROP start once the baby reaches a certain level of maturity, which can be a few weeks after birth.
ROP is a condition where the blood vessels at the back of the eye (retina) have grown abnormally. It can cause permanent damage to the retina. Without treatment, severe ROP can seriously affect your baby’s vision, and even cause blindness.
Laser treatment is usually given by a specialist. If this is not available in the unit where your baby is being cared for, your baby may need to be transferred to another unit for the treatment. In some situations, the ophthalmologist (eye doctor) may choose to freeze the retina using cryotherapy instead of laser. If this is the case, your baby will be sedated or given a general anaesthetic for the operation.
Preterm babies also have a higher risk of hearing problems. As part of a national programme, all newborn babies should be offered a hearing test before leaving hospital.