Retinal Tear and Retinal Detachment

Our sight is deemed one of the most, if not the most, important of all our senses, yet we may tend to take it for granted. However, as we age, this trusted sense may begin to fail. One of the more serious problems that can develop is a retinal tear or retinal detachment.

To understand how this occurs, we need to take a brief look at two structures of the eye:

The Retina:

The American Academy of Ophthalmology states that “the retina is the light-sensitive tissue lining the back of our eye.” It converts the light rays that are focused on it into impulses that travel through our optic nerve to the brain, which then interprets them into the images that we see.

The Vitreous:

This clear gel fills the middle of the eye and is attached to the retina. You may sometimes see small dark specks floating before your eyes when you look at a clear background or a blue sky. These are called floaters. While they appear to be in front of your eyes, they are actually shadows that are cast on to your retina, and are therefore inside your eyes. These floaters are tiny clumps of gel or cells inside the vitreous. As you get older, the vitreous may shrink and pull on the retina. If this happens, you may experience flashing lights, or “see stars.” These are called flashes.

Retinal Tears

A retinal tear can develop if the vitreous pulls away hard enough from the retina to tear it in one or more places. This sometimes causes a small bleeding in the eye that may appear as new floaters. A retinal tear is a serious problem as it can lead to retinal detachment. The American Society of Retina Specialists states that not all retinal tears require treatment. If they are diagnosed before they progress to retinal detachment, they can be treated with laser surgery or cryotherapy (freezing). Some tears may develop adhesion around the tear and can simply be monitored without treatment.

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Retinal Detachment

The American Academy of Ophthalmology states that retinal detachment occurs when vitreous fluid leaks into a retinal tear, lifting the retina off the back of the wall, causing the retina to become detached. This is a very serious problem as the retina stops working and vision is blurred. This condition requires surgery.

The academy lists several conditions that are risk factors for retinal detachment:

  • Nearsightedness or myopia. A condition in which close objects appear clear while distant objects appear blurry
  • Previous cataract, glaucoma or eye surgery
  • Family history of retinal detachment
  • Retinal detachment in the other eye
  • Severe eye injury
  • Glaucoma medications that decrease the size of the pupil
  • Weak areas in the retina

Warning signs of a retinal detachment:

  • A sudden increase in the size and number of floaters
  • Flashes – this could be the first sign of retinal detachment
  • Seeing a shadow in the side of your field of vision
  • Seeing a dark curtain moving across your eye
  • A sudden decrease in your vision

Saving Your Sight

The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends you take the following steps:

  • Know the warning signs of retinal detachment and see your ophthalmologist if any of them appear.
  • If you are nearsighted or have a family history of retinal detachment, you should have dilated eye exams on a regular basis.
  • Use protective eyewear when playing sports or engaging in any hazardous activities.
  • If you get a serious eye injury be sure to see your eye doctor right away.

Impaired vision can negatively impact the quality of your life. Saving your sight is worth every effort you can make. By following the tips above and having regular eye exams, you should be able to keep your eyes healthy for a long time to come.

Posted September 18, 2021 by Silverstein Eye Centers
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