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The retina is a layer of light-sensitive tissue located at the back of eye. The retina is comprised of two types of light receptor cells: rods and cones. Rods provide the ability to see in conditions of low illumination while cones deliver sharp vision and the ability to see color. The retina transmits images via the optic nerve to the brain and it functions similar to film in a camera.

As we age, the vitreous gel that fills our eye and maintains its shape begins to shrink and pull away from the retina. In some cases, the retina may tear usually affecting the peripheral area of the retina.

What happens in Retinal Detachment?

Retinal detachment is a critical medical condition where the retina detaches from a network of blood vessels that deliver oxygen and nutrients necessary for healthy vision.

In a situation where the retina completely detaches, this thin nerve layer loses its sensitivity to light and fails to function properly thereby ceasing to transmit images to the brain via the optic nerve which can result in vision loss. A retinal detachment is classified as a medical emergency and patients with symptoms need to see an ophthalmologist immediately. Fortunately, prompt treatment can repair tears and reattach the retina.

What are the Risk Factors?

  • Adults over 40
  • Highly nearsighted (myopic)
  • Trauma to the eye
  • Have had cataract surgery
  • Family history
  • Other eye diseases or disorders
  • Diabetes

What are the Symptoms?

The warning signs include a sudden or gradual increase in the occurrence of floaters; which are tiny specks that drift across your field of vision. Symptoms also include flashes of light than can be seen with peripheral vision. Patients have reported seeing these flashes even when the eye is closed. An additional symptomatic condition associated with retinal detachment is the appearance of a curtain or film across the field of vision.

The experience of these symptoms does not always indicate retinal detachment; however, regular eye exams can detect a torn or detached retina and prompt attention can prevent permanent vision loss. An ophthalmologist can detect problems during a dilated eye examination. For this exam, the pupils are dilated by placing drops in the eye which allows the physician to examine your retina using an ophthalmoscope.

General Discussion on Surgical Treatment for Retinal Detachment

In some cases of retinal detachment, a scleral buckle is surgically attached to the outside of the eye in order to gently push the wall of the eye against the detached retina. Quite often, the eye surgeon will also perform a vitrectomy. For this procedure, a small incision is made in the white of the eye known as the sclera. This is done in order to remove the vitreous or gel-like substance that helps the eye maintain its shape. The surgeon will then inject a gas into the eye for the dual purpose of reattaching the retina and replacing the vitreous. As the eye heals, it will begin to produce fluid to fill the eye; thereby gradually replacing the gas injected during the vitrectomy. The retina is then fused back into place through either a laser procedure or the procedure known as cryopexy, a process where intense cold is applied to seal a retinal tear.

The fundamental concept that requires additional emphasis is the critical importance of regular eye examinations. If you experience any of the symptoms, please call our office and schedule an exam.