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Visual Problems in Pre-Term Babies

Early visual problems occurring in Pre term birth babies

One problem solved but another follows on.

With the ever increasing successes in sustaining the lives of very early pre term deliveries usually associated with low weight and respiration problems the down side has been the large increase in severely visually affected babies often with long lasting affects.

There is a markedly higher rate of survival of babies surviving birth at pre 27 weeks (Normal term is regarded as 40 weeks) over the last 15 years.  There has for example been a hike in pre term successful deliveries by 2% in the USA in this period bringing the overall number to 13% of live births being pre term.

However because of arrested development created by a pre 27 week births many will suffer from hearing loss, eye defects and cerebral palsy.  Much of the developmental stages within the ocular system occur in the last 12 to 14 weeks of a full 40 week gestation.

The eye and its vision can be particularly affected due to the visual cortex of the brain being under developed and in some cases this will cause long standing visual and balance problems throughout the life of the child and through to adulthood.

The retina, the pigment screen and neural stimuli collector sending information to the brain is also underdeveloped and pre terms often have blood vessel infiltration from the retinal extremities moving inwards which will cause blindness due to the disruption of the retinal receptors. Early ablation of these haemorrhaging blood vessels with laser technology in the first few hours or days can halt this process and can protect the future retinal vision of the baby, although until the child is able to be tested no one knows if the sight will be picked up by the visual brain cortex in the future..

In a study in the USA more than half of a sample of 28,000 babies born weighing less than 2.5 pounds were discovered to have some form of retinopathy.

Whilst these conditions are occurring in greater numbers they are still a tiny minority.  This creates problems in having ophthalmology teams to hand with a wealth of experience which is needed. In some regions “centres of excellence” have been set up with mobile teams on hand to travel to the baby rather than needing complicated travel assistance for the bay to be moved to another resource.

Later pre terms and low weight babies do not suffer these acute early day problems but often will have a greater chance of strabismus, (Squint) and amblyopia (lazy eye).

There may be other associated learning difficulties.  As with any child but particularly pre terms get your baby seen around 2 to three years old at an optometrist or earlier if your suspect an eye is turning in or out (Squint).


See also:

Eye Care in the UK

Vision and Development in Children


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