Sight is one of the most important senses we have. This can be threatened by a condition called retinal detachment (RD). The retina is a two-layered structure at the back of the eye which receives light from the outside and sends electrical signals via the optic nerve to the brain for processing what you’re seeing. When these two retinal layers become separated, for reasons we’ll explore later, you experience a serious condition called retinal detachment. If this condition is not diagnosed and treated quickly, the result could be blindness.
Detached Retina Symptoms
Usually the first stage of RD is a retinal tear. When internal eye fluid is able to pass through that tear, it can result in the layers separating. It can occur suddenly but is often accompanied by a few signs. Once the symptoms appear, it is important to get treatment promptly to preserve vision as much as possible. Here are some classic symptoms to be aware of:
1. The Curtain Effect
The curtain effect is a partial vision loss characterized as a dark curtain has been pulled across your vision. It is often described as a gray curtain at the center with some shadow around.
2. Flashing Lights
Up to 60% of people with RD report lights flashing in the periphery or side vision. These fleeting flashes may occur as you quickly move your head or eyes. Theses flashes are easily visible in dim lighting.
Sudden increases of floating debris in your sight are also common detached retina symptoms. They may appear as black spots, strings or flecks. It is usually normal to have a few floaters but any sudden increase in the number especially with an appearance of flashing lights is alarming, you should see your doctor immediately.
Causes and Risk Factors of Detached Retina
Although RD is a fairly uncommon condition, there are some pre-existing conditions that pose a high risk to developing this potentially serious condition:
- Family history: people who have a family history of RD
- Previous cataract surgery: in about 3% of people who have had cataract surgery, the retina detaches. This can be attributed to the fact that the internal eye gel becomes watery.
- Serious eye injuries: either blunt force trauma or any penetrating injury can lead to detached retina symptoms.
- Severely near-sighted people: in these people, the eyeball shape is unusually elongated which applies stress to the retina.
- People over the age of forty: as people age, the vitreous fluids decrease placing pressure on the retina.
- People with diabetes or high blood pressure.
People with these pre-existing conditions should have regular eye check-ups. Also protect your eyes when playing sports like boxing, or engaging in other dangerous activities like paintball.
Types of Detached Retina
There are three ways in which RD can occur:
- Rhegmatogenous retinal detachment: a tear in the retina allows the vitreous fluid to flow between the two layers of the retina. This is the most common type of RD.
- Traction retinal detachment: scar tissue formation due to inflammation on the retina because of some types of eye diseases or diabetic eye complications.
- Exudative retinal detachment: some health complications like certain types of cancers, extreme hypertension and inflammation of the blood vessels in the eye can cause fluid to leach out of blood vessels into the space between the two retinal layers.
Diagnosis of Detached Retina
Your doctor will obtain a full medical history to determine your risk factors, e.g. your family history or if you have diabetes.
A thorough eye examination will reveal how badly your eyesight has deteriorated including your peripheral vision.
Medicated eye drops will be placed into your eye to dilate your pupils temporarily so that he can examine your retina thoroughly. He may use a medical device called an ophthalmoscope to check for retinal tears and for retinal detachment areas. If the diagnosis remains unclear, he may use an ultrasound.
Treatments for Detached Retina
Your doctor will make a decision about which treatment or combinations of treatments to use depending upon the severity, type, location and size of the RD
1. Laser Surgery
Also known as photocoagulation, laser surgeryadapts a special laser beam to meld the detached retina onto the tissue beneath.
A freezing probe is used in this procedure to freeze the affected area to create a scar that will hold the retina to the underlying tissue.
3. Pneumatic Retinopexy
The doctor will inject some air or gas into the fluid in the interior of the eye. The air bubble will float near the retinal tear and seals it.
4. Scleral Buckle
This involves a special piece of silicone or sponge band being surgically sutured onto the sclera. This serves to indent the sclera towards the area of detachment, thus reducing the pull of vitreous fluid on the retina. This scleral buckle will usually remain in place permanently but is not visible.
Vitrectomy is a type of surgery to remove the vitreous fluid from the eye. The vitreous fluid is then replaced by a special liquid, air or a gas to re-attach the retina onto the tissue beneath. This procedure is sometimes used together with the scleral buckle.
When RD in the macula region of the retina is suspected, treatment should be initiated within 24 hours. After this period, it is possible that the central vision (macula) is lost. If you get medical treatment within seven days of RD commencing, vision can be saved to return to normal. Over 90% of surgeries to re-attach retinas have been successful. But there is no guarantee that RD will not recur after surgical intervention.
Prognosis of Detached Retina
You need to be aware of detached retina symptoms and the risks that predispose you to RD so as to act quickly and prevent any long-term vision loss. However, if part of your vision is permanently affected there are many positive lifestyle changes you can make to help you cope and get the support you need:
- Join network with support groups for people with visual impairments.
- Ask for help from friends and family.
- Use lighting to brighten your home.
- Use visual devices or special spectacles to optimize the vision you have.
- Technological devices like audiobooks and special computers can help you stay in touch.