Retinal detachment is a medical emergency, which is why it’s essential for everyone to watch for related signs and symptoms. If you suspect that you are experiencing retinal detachment, then the best thing you can do is seek emergency medical services without delay.
The retina consists of a thin layer of tissue located in the back of the eye. When detachment occurs, it means that this tissue pulls away from the normal positioning.
As a result, the retinal cells are separated from the blood vessels that provide nourishment and oxygen. This lack of nourishment causes the tissue to starve, which leads to vision loss and other eye issues.
The retina can pull away for a variety of reasons, as described in more detail in the next section: common causes of retinal detachment.
The cause of this eye condition depends on the type of retinal detachment that you have:
- Rhegmatogenous: This is the most common type of retinal detachment. It happens when there is a tear or hole in the retina, allowing fluid to pass through. Eventually, it pulls the retina away. Aging is a factor that increases rhegmatogenous retinal detachment because of the changing consistency in the liquid within the eye.
- Exudative: Another type of retinal detachment occurs because of fluid accumulation without the presence of tears or holes in the retina. This retinal attachment can occur because of inflammatory disorders, tumors, eye injury, or age-related macular degeneration.
- Tractional: The development of scar tissue on the retinal surface is the cause of tractional detachment. This condition is most common in people who have unmanaged diabetes or other health conditions.
Are you at high risk for retinal detachment? There are a variety of factors that can increase the likelihood of you experiencing this eye problem:
- Age: Retinal detachment is most common in people who are 50 years or older.
- Previous Occurrences: If you previously experienced retinal detachment, then there is a higher risk of it happening again.
- Eye Surgery: Your risk of retinal detachment is higher if you’ve had eye surgery in the past, including cataract removal.
- Eye Injury: Serious injuries to the eye can be a factor that increases the likelihood of retinal detachment.
- Family History: The risk goes up when close family members, including parents and siblings, have a history of retinal detachment.
- Myopia: Extreme nearsightedness can increase the risk of retinal detachment.
- Other Conditions: The presence of other eye conditions could be a contributing factor to retinal detachment, including uveitis, retinoschisis, or lattice degeneration (the thinning of the retina).
Certain warning signs indicate that you might have an issue because of retinal detachment:
- Reduced vision
- Blurred vision
- Sudden appearance of floaters (tiny specks moving through your field of vision)
- Flashes in your vision
- Gradual reduction in peripheral vision
- A shadow or sensation of a curtain over your visual field
If you notice any of these symptoms, then it’s critical to stop what you are doing and seek immediate medical attention. Remember: retinal detachment is a medical emergency, and can cause you to have permanent vision loss.
If retinal detachment is suspected, then your eye doctor can use different testing and diagnostic procedures to determine an accurate diagnosis. For example, an examination tool with a bright light allows the eye doctor to see the back area of your eye, including any detachment, tears, or holes that might be present.
Additionally, the doctor might recommend ultrasound imaging. This diagnostic step is most common when there is bleeding in the eye that makes it difficult to see the retina.
Even if you are only having symptoms in one eye, it’s likely that the eye doctor will examine both eyes.
What happens if the eye doctor doesn’t identify a tear during this visit? It’s possible that you will be asked to come back for a follow-up exam in a few weeks, to confirm that there isn’t a delayed tear. If you experience any additional symptoms, then it’s critical to visit the doctor right away.
No, retinal detachment won’t heal without medical intervention.
It’s important to understand that the longer retinal detachment is left untreated, the higher the risk of permanent vision loss in the eye. Retinal detachment won’t heal on its own – you must visit with a medical expert as soon as possible to prevent permanent vision loss.
When a retinal detachment, hole, or tear occurs, then surgery is the most common recommendation for treatment. A variety of treatment methods are available, depending on the severity and type of condition that you are experiencing.
Your eye doctor will discuss the potential benefits and risks of these surgical methods. Then, you can decide on the optimal method (or combination of procedures).
Treatment for a partial retinal tear might include:
- Cryopexy (Freezing): This method starts with local anesthetic so the eye is numb. Then, a freezing probe is placed directly over the tear on the outer surface of the eye. Freezing the tissue causes a formation of scar tissue that holds the retina to the eye wall.
- Photocoagulation (Laser Surgery): A laser beam is directed through the pupil and into the eye during this treatment. This laser causes burns around the retinal tear location. As a result, scarring develops that holds the retina and underlying tissue together.
If you have a full retinal detachment, then different types of surgery are considered, including:
- Pneumatic Retinopexy (Gas or Air Injections): The surgeon carefully injects a bubble of gas or air into the vitreous cavity (middle part) of the eye. When the air is properly positioned, it pushes the retina into place and stops the flow of fluid through the hole. Additionally, cryopexy or laser might be part of this procedure.
- Scleral Buckling (Indenting the Surface of the Eye): Another option is to suture a small silicone piece over the affected area of the eye. As a result, an indentation is caused, which reduces some of the force that is happening because of the pulling on the retina. For severe conditions, a full scleral buckle can encircle the entire eye with a permanent placement.
- Vitrectomy (Fluid Draining and Replacement): The surgeon begins by removing the vitreous fluid, as well as any surrounding tissue that is tugging on the retina. Then, silicone oil, gas, or air is injected into the space to flatten the retina into place. Over time, the injected liquid, gas, or air is absorbed and the body replaces it with body fluid.
The good news is that most retinal surgeries are outpatient procedures, which means you can go home after the treatment is finished. But you will need to be careful during the recovery process to avoid anything that might cause a jarring effect to the eyes (such as sports activities or running).
Whether you are experiencing symptoms of retinal detachment, or it’s time for a routine eye exam, our experienced team is here to help. Schedule an appointment at one of our convenient EyesNY locations