What is the retina?
The retina is a nerve layer at the back of your eye that senses light and sends images to your brain. An eye is like a camera. The lens in the front of the eye focuses light onto the retina. You can think of the retina as the film that lines the back of a camera.
What is a retinal detachment?
A retinal detachment occurs when the retina is pulled away from its normal position. The retina does not work when it is detached. Vision is blurred, like a camera picture would be blurry if the film were loose inside the camera. A retinal detachment is a very serious problem that almost always causes blindness unless it is treated.
What causes retinal detachment?
As we get older, the vitreous may pull away from its attachment to the retina at the back of the eye. Usually the vitreous separates from the retina without causing problems. But sometimes the vitreous pulls hard enough to tear the retina in one or more places. Fluid may pass through the retinal tear, lifting the retina off the back of the eye, like wallpaper can peel off a wall. The following conditions increase the chance that you might get a retinal detachment;
- Near sightedness;
- Previous cataract surgery;
- Severe injury;
- Previous retinal detachment in your other eye;
- Family history of retinal detachment;
- Weak areas in your retina that can be seen by your ophthalmologist.
What are the warning symptoms of a retinal detachment?
These early symptoms may indicate the presence of a retinal detachment:
- Flashing lights;
- New floaters;
- A gray curtain moving across your field of vision.
These symptoms do not always mean a retinal detachment is present; however, you should see your ophthalmologist as soon as possible. Your ophthalmologist (medical eye doctor) can diagnose retinal detachment during an eye examination where he or she dilates (enlarges) the pupils of your eyes. Some retinal detachments are found during routine eye examination. Only after careful examination can your ophthalmologist tell whether a retinal tear or early retinal detachment is present.
What are the risks of surgery?
Any surgery has risks; however, an untreated retinal detachment usually results in permanent sever vision loss or blindness. Some of the surgical risks include:
- High pressure in the eye;
Most retinal detachment surgery is successful, although a second operation is sometimes needed. If the retina cannot be reattached, then the eye will continue to lose sight and ultimately become blind.
(Information thanks to: American Academy of Ophthalmology.
Copyright © American Academy of Ophthalmology, 2004.)