Light and the developing retina
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Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) has increased in the United States in the past decade. Its resurgence has been attributed to advances in medical care which have increased the survival of infants less than 1000g. Retinal immaturity and exposure to supplementary oxygen are generally accepted as the principal factors associated with ROP, however precocious exposure of the immature retina to light may also contribute. The preterm infant is routinely exposed for the duration of hospital stay to bright continuous light at levels which produce retinal damage in animals. A recent study has provided evidence implicating light in ROP. Preterm infants for whom the light levels were reduced had a lower incidence of ROP, compared to a similar group of preterms exposed to standard levels of nursery light. Given the problems of a non-randomized design, the results must be considered preliminary; however the findings are substantiated by parallel results in both hospitals studied and by an effect of exposure to light within the treatment group. Speculations regarding the mechanisms of light as a contributor to ROP include: alterations of retinal metabolism, cellular damage by phototoxicity, and the generation of free radicals. Mechanisms of phototoxicity are compatible with theories of oxygen toxicity. Light may not be necessary for ROP to occur, but it may increase the risk.
Key wordsretinopathy of prematurity light phototoxicity oxygen
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