To compare the foveal avascular zone (FAZ) area measured by optical coherence tomography angiography in children who had been born preterm with age-matched controls.
In this cross-sectional observational comparative case series, 43 eyes of 26 children (28 eyes of 15 former preterm infants and 15 eyes of 11 former term infants) between the ages of 4 and 12 years old were included. Optical coherence tomography angiography with a scan size of 3 × 3 was performed for all eyes. Foveal avascular zone area was measured using the Optovue RTVue AVANTI instrument (Optovue Inc, Fremont, CA) software. Inner and outer retinal thicknesses were measured with the instrument caliper.
A distinct FAZ was absent in 12 eyes (42.8%) of children with a history of preterm birth, however, it was present in all (100%) control eyes. The FAZ area was significantly correlated with gestational age (r = 0.82, P < 0.001) and birth weight (r = 0.80, P < 0.001). The gestational age was less than 29 weeks and birth weight was less than 1,480 grams in eyes with no distinct FAZ. Mean central foveal vessel density in the superficial capillary plexus was 41.8 ± 4.4% in the preterm group and 32.8 ± 5.8% in the control group (P < 0.001). In all eyes, a significant negative correlation was found between the central foveal vessel density and gestational age (r = -0.63, P = 0.001) and birth weight (r = -0.59, P = 0.002). On spectral domain optical coherence tomography examination, the foveal depression was absent and the inner retinal layers were preserved in all eyes with absent FAZ. In all eyes, a significant negative correlation was found between the inner retinal thickness and gestational age (r = -0.68, P < 0.001) and birth weight (r = -0.61, P = 0.001). Ten eyes of 6 preterm children had a history of laser therapy for retinopathy of prematurity. A distinct FAZ was absent in six eyes (60%) with retinopathy of prematurity with history of laser therapy, and six eyes (33.3%) with preterm birth without laser therapy. Eyes with history of laser therapy had a statistically significantly higher inner retinal thickness and central foveal vessel density and smaller FAZ compared with the eyes with preterm birth without laser therapy (P < 0.001, P = 0.04 and P = 0.03, respectively).
Optical coherence tomography angiography is a novel modality for noninvasive visualization of the retinal vasculature in pediatric patients and expands our knowledge of foveal abnormalities in retinopathy of prematurity. A small or absent FAZ seems to be a distinct sign of prematurity.