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What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of A Retinal Detachment?

The retina is crucial to our vision. It is the light sensitive layer at the back of the eye that contains photosensitive cells called rods and cones. Light enters the eye and strikes the retina, which then triggers nerve impulses to be sent to various vision centers in the brain via the optic nerve. The brain then takes this information and interprets it and gives us visual perception.  If the retina detaches or is pulled away from its normal position it can cause permanent and irreparable vision loss. A retinal detachment is considered a medical emergency and treatment should be sought immediately.

Causes And Risk Factors Of A Retinal Detachment

Retinal Detachment Diagram

Retinal detachment. Vector diagram

A retinal detachment can occur when a tear or break in the retina can cause fluid to get under it and pull it away from the skin-like epithelial tissue it is attached to. It can occur at any age but it more likely to occur over the age of 40.  According to the National Eye Institute (2009), it is also more likely to occur in those who have had cataract surgery, eye injury, advanced diabetes, an inflammatory eye disorder, are extremely nearsighted or who have a family history of retinal detachments.


Signs And Symptoms Of Retinal Detachment

Retinal detachments are usually painless but are almost always preceded by warning signs and symptoms.  Symptoms include:

  • the sudden appearance of new, different or numerous floaters that looks like spots or hairs or even cobwebs floating across your vision
  • sudden flashes of light (photopsia)
  • a dark curtain sensation that seems to come down over your visual field

Anyone experiencing any of these symptoms should not wait, but proceed directly to their nearest eye care professional, as time is of the essence in correcting this issue. Often a retinal tear can be reversed through surgery before it becomes a full retinal detachment. Once a retina has fully detached, surgery does not always work to reattach the retina. Vision loss in the affected eye can be permanent, or it may take months for the eye to fully heal and for vision to improve. How well you see after surgery is dependent on if the macula was affected by the detachment and if it was, for how long. We inform all of our patients that if they experience any sudden changes in their vision, that they should visit an optometrist right away, that very same day. If an optometrist suspects and diagnoses a retinal tear or detachment they will immediately refer you to an ophthalmologist on call at a hospital or emergency eye clinic.

How A Retinal Detachment is Repaired

Any of the following procedures may be used to repair a retinal tear or detachment:

  • laser surgery repair
  • freezing or ‘cryopexy’
  • injecting air into your eye
  • indenting the surface of your eye
  • draining and replacing the fluid in the eye

After any of these procedures, you will undergo a recovery period in which you will likely be encouraged to refrain from any vigorous activity for several weeks to allow your eye to heal. Because retinal tears and detachments are medical emergencies and can cause you to permanently lose your vision, it is critical to see an optometrist right away if you experience any abnormal symptoms such as the ones listed in this article.

Article Written By: Kaitlin McAlpine


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