The retina is the light-sensitive layer of tissue that lines the inside of the back of the eye. This tissue is responsible for sending visual information through the optic nerve all the way to the brain. When the retina ‘detaches’, it is separated or lifted from the underlying tissues. If not treated quickly, a retinal detachment can cause permanent vision loss.
In some instances, only small areas of the retina are torn. We refer to these smaller areas as ‘retinal tears’ or ‘retinal holes’. These also need to be assessed and possibly treated, as they can result in a larger retinal detachment.
What are the signs of a retinal detachment?
Symptoms include a sudden or gradual increase in either the number of floaters, which are little “cobwebs” or specks that float about in your field of vision, and/or light flashes in the eye. Another symptom is the appearance of a curtain over the field of vision.
A retinal detachment is a medical emergency.
Anyone experiencing any of the above symptoms of a retinal detachment should see an eye care professional immediately.
Who is at risk for retinal detachment?
Retinal detachments can occur at any age, but are more common in people over the age of 40.
A retinal detachment is also more likely to occur in people who:
• Are extremely nearsighted (high minus prescription)
• Have had a retinal detachment in the other eye
• Have a family history of retinal detachment
• Have had cataract surgery
• Have other eye diseases or disorders, such as retinoschisis, uveitis, degenerative myopia, or lattice degeneration
• Have had a previous eye injury
How are retinal detachments treated?
Retinal holes or tears can be treated with laser therapy or cryotherapy (freezing the retina or cryopexy) to prevent their progression to a full-scale retinal detachment. Many factors determine which holes or tears need to be treated. These factors include the type and location of the defects, whether it is pulling on the retina (traction) or bleeding is involved and the presence of any of the other risk factors discussed above.
Three types of eye surgery are done for actual retinal detachment: vitrectomy, scleral buckling, and pneumatic retinopexy. You can ask your optometrist for more details regarding these treatments.
Early diagnosis and repair of retinal detachments is very important!! The risk of vision loss is much less when the retina is repaired before the macula or central area is detached. Please share with your friends and family!
-Dr. Lindsay Copeland