The retina is the light-sensitive layer of tissue that lines the inside of the eye and sends visual messages through the optic nerve to the brain. When the retina detaches, it is lifted or pulled from its normal position. If not promptly treated, retinal detachment can cause permanent vision loss. In some cases there may be small areas of the retina that are torn. These areas, called retinal tears or retinal breaks, can lead to retinal detachment.
When the retina becomes separated from its underlying supportive tissue, it cannot function. This retinal detachment is a very serious problem, and if the retina is not reattached soon, permanent vision loss may result. Immediate treatment increases the possibility of regaining lost vision.
There is no pain associated with a retinal tear or detachment, so awareness of the symptoms and signs is a prominent factor in its diagnosis and early treatment. These signs can occur suddenly or gradually as the retina pulls away from the supportive tissue.
Some symptoms of retinal detachment:
- Notice of sudden spots, floaters or flashes of light
- Notice of blurry or poor vision
- Seeing a shadow or curtain descending from top to bottom of your field of vision
- Seeing a shadow or curtain progressing across your field of vision
Injuries to the eye or face, often sports related, are a common cause of retinal detachment. Individuals with extreme nearsightedness can also be prone to retinal detachment. These individuals have thinner retinas with longer eyeballs and the thin retina is more likely to become detached. Less common causes may be tumors, eye disease, systemic diseases such as diabetes and sickle cell. New blood vessels growing under the retina occurring in diabetic retinopathy may also push the retina away from its support network and cause detachment or tears.
Surgical procedures are required in order to repair a detached retina if caught early:
- Scleral buckling surgery: the most common consists of attaching a small band of silicone or plastic to the outside of the eye - called the sclera. It compresses or buckles the eye inward, reducing the pulling of the retina and allows the retina to reattach to the interior wall of the eye. It is used in combination with one of the following procedures to fuse the retina to its underlying supportive tissue.
- Vitrectomy: The clear jelly like fluid is removed from the posterior chamber of the eye and replaced with clear silicone oil to push the detached portion of the retina back into its correct position. This procedure is combined with Scleral buckling.
- Laser treatment: For new and relatively small detachments, laser spots can be used to "weld down" a wall around the advancing edge of the detachment.
Surgical reattachment of the retina isn't always successful. Success depends on the location, cause and extent of the retinal detachment as well as other factors. Additionally, reattachment doesn't guarantee normal vision. The more severe the detachment, and the longer it has been present, the less vision may be expected to return. For this reason, it is very important to see Dr. Robinson at the first sign of trouble.