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Eye Exam for Retinopathy of Prematurity

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Definition | Reasons for Procedure | Possible Complications | What to Expect | Call Your Doctor


During this exam, an eye doctor examines the interior of the eyes through a special lens. The doctor checks for any damaged blood vessels in the retina inside the eye.

Normal Anatomy of the Eye

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Reasons for Procedure

This exam is done to look for retinopathy of prematurity (ROP). ROP is an abnormal growth of blood vessels in the retina. It is a rare conditions that that can occur in premature infants or those that have a low birth weight. ROP will usually go away on its own but some can cause vision loss or blindness. This exam will help determine if ROP is present and if treatment is needed.

If your infant is at risk for ROP, this eye exam will be scheduled at regular intervals until the blood vessels of the eye are fully developed.

Possible Complications

Your infant may need eye drops during the exam. Your doctor will discuss the complications that may be caused by eye drops, such as:

  • Stinging or discomfort in the eye
  • Light sensitivity
  • Blurred vision
  • Lid swelling
  • Red eyes

Be sure to discuss these risks with the doctor before the eye exam.

What to Expect

  • Do not feed your infant right before the exam.
  • If recommended by the doctor, a pacifier during the exam may help soothe your infant.
  • The doctor will put eye drops in your infant’s eyes. These will make the pupils open wide. The drops will take about 30-60 minutes to work.

Drops may be placed in the eyes to numb them and keep your infant comfortable.

An assistant may gently place your infant in a blanket and hold her during the exam. A special device will be placed to keep your infant's eyelids open. A special lens will send a bright light into the eye so the doctor can see the blood vessels in the eye. The doctor may also use a tool to move the eye in different directions.

30-60 minutes

The dilating eye drops can cause stinging. The exam can cause discomfort, as well. Ask the doctor if medication may be needed to keep your infant comfortable.

Right after the exam, the doctor will tell you about the condition of your infant’s eyes. Follow up will be scheduled if your child needs a procedure or repeat screening.

Depending on the strength of the eye drops, your infant’s eyes may be dilated for 4-24 hours.

Call Your Doctor

After arriving home, contact the doctor if any of the following occurs in your infant:

  • Discharge from the eye
  • Redness or swelling
  • Does not respond to objects, movement, or light or is not tracking with their eyes
  • Signs of infection, including fever and chills
  • Any new symptoms

If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.


American Academy of Pediatrics


National Eye Institute



Canadian Ophthalmology Society


Canadian Pediatric Society



DynaMed Editorial Team. Retinopathy of prematurity. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php. Updated June 10, 2013. Accessed June 21, 2013.

National Eye Institute. Retinopathy of prematurity. National Eye Institute website. Available at: http://www.nei.nih.gov/health/rop. Accessed June 21, 2013.

Last reviewed March 2013 by Michael Woods, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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