What is retinal detachment?
Retinal detachment is a detachment of the light-responsive layer in the back of the eye (the retina) from its supporting layers.
Retinal detachment can cause vision loss. It should be attended to as soon as possible. If the retina is reattached soon enough, you will be able to see again. If not, your loss of vision can be irreversible.
How does it occur?
Retinal detachment can occur from the following:
- diminishing of the retina with age
- a puncture or tear in the retina
- trauma to the eye
- diseases in the eye such as:
- severe inflammation of the retina
Retinal detachment is most common in people who:
- are middle-aged or older
- are very nearsighted
- have undergone cataract surgery
- have had a family member with retinal detachment
What are the symptoms?
The main symptom is pain-free loss of vision in your eye. Your healthy eye may take over for the other eye. You may not recognize a problem right away. Symptoms of a detached retina include:
- unexpectedly seeing a great deal of flashes of light
- unexpectedly seeing many floaters, which are dark spots or cobweb like forms
- loss of peripheral (side) vision
- blurry or distorted vision, which arises as the detachment worsens.
If you have any of these symptoms mentioned above, and especially if they happen abruptly, see an eye doctor right away.
How is it diagnosed?
Your eye doctor will ask about your recent symptoms. He or she will take a look at your eyes through an ophthalmoscope (a lighted instrument that is able to see inside the eye) and get a clear look at your retina.
How is it treated?
Nearly all retinal detachments can be treated. You will have one or more of the following eye operations:
- Pneumatic retinopexy. The eye surgeon administers a gas bubble into the eye to force the retina back in place. The tears in the retina are closed up later with cryopexy (freezing) or a laser.
- Scleral buckling. If more of the retina is detached, a silicone band or sponge is inserted on the outside of the eye to force the eye wall up against the retina.
- Vitrectomy. The vitreous (clear gel inside the eye) may be drawing the retina away from the eye. The eye surgeon will cut the vitreous away from the retina to stop the retina from drawing away. The surgeon then fills the eyeball with air, gas, or silicone oil to force the retina back against the wall of your eye. Over time, the air or gas is replaced with the eye's own fluids. If silicone oil is used, it needs to be removed during a second surgery.
Your eye is numbed for these operations. For most of them you can go home right after the operation. You may need other minor operations as well. Your eye doctor will check your eyes frequently. He or she may use laser, heat, or cold therapy later to restore any punctures or tears in your retina.
How long will the effects last?
Surgery to restore a detached retina is successful in most instances. However, because the retina is very fragile and complex, there is almost always some degree of irreversible damage.
If a detached retina is not treated right away, you may have loss of vision permanently.
How can you take care of yourself?
Follow your eye doctor's instructions after surgery to help your eye recover. You will need to:
- Use the eyedrops or medicines prescribed by your eye doctor.
- Limit your daily activities for a couple of days.
- Keep your head in the position recommended by your eye doctor for a couple days to a couple of weeks.
A handful of weeks after surgery and your eye has entirely healed, have your eyeglasses prescription checked to see if your prescription needs any adjustment.
If you have had retinal detachment in one eye, retinal detachment in the other eye can also be at risk. See your eye doctor on a frequent basis so that any minor problems in your other eye can be treated before they become serious.
What can you do to help prevent this from occurring?
If you are very nearsighted or have a family member who has had retinal detachments, see your eye doctor frequently. While you cannot prevent all the changes in your eyes, you can help prevent them from seriously damaging your eyesight. Treating punctures and tears of the retina immediately helps prevent retinal detachment.