WHAT IS A TORN OR DETACHED RETINA?
The retina is the light-sensitive tissue lining the back of our eye. Light rays are focused onto the retina through our cornea, pupil and lens. The retina converts the light rays into impulses that travel through the optic nerve to our brain, where they are interpreted as the images we see. A healthy, intact retina is key to clear vision.
The middle of our eye is filled with a clear gel called vitreous (vi-tree-us) that is attached to the retina. Sometimes tiny clumps of gel or cells inside the vitreous will cast shadows on the retina, and you may sometimes see small dots, specks, strings or clouds moving in your field of vision. These are called floaters. You can often see them when looking at a plain, light background, like a blank wall or blue sky.
As we get older, the vitreous may shrink and pull on the retina. When this happens, you may notice what look like flashing lights, lightning streaks or the sensation of seeing “stars.” These are called flashes.
Retinal tear and retinal detachment
Usually, the vitreous moves away from the retina without causing problems. But sometimes the vitreous pulls hard enough to tear the retina in one or more places. Fluid may pass through a retinal tear, lifting the retina off the back of the eye — much as wallpaper can peel off a wall. When the retina is pulled away from the back of the eye like this, it is called a retinal detachment.
The retina does not work when it is detached and vision becomes blurry. A retinal detachment is a very serious problem that almost always causes blindness unless it is treated with detached retina surgery.
Retinal Detachment: Who Is At Risk for a Torn or Detached Retina?
People with the following conditions have an increased risk for retinal detachment:
- Previous cataract, glaucoma or other eye surgery;
- Glaucoma medications that make the pupil small (like pilocarpine)
- Severe eye injury;
- Previous retinal detachment in the other eye;
- Family history of retinal detachment;
- Weak areas in the retina that can be seen by an ophthalmologist during an eye exam.
Retinal Detachment: Torn or Detached Retina Symptoms
- A sudden increase in size and number of floaters, indicating a retinal tear may be occurring;
- A sudden appearance of flashes, which could be the first stage of a retinal tear or detachment;
- Having a shadow appear in the periphery (side) of your field of vision;
- Seeing a gray curtain moving across your field of vision;
- A sudden decrease in your vision.
Flashes and Floaters
Floaters and flashes in themselves are quite common and do not always mean you have a retinal tear or detachment. However, if they are suddenly more severe and you notice you are losing vision, you should call your ophthalmologist right away.
See a simulation of what vision with a torn or detached retina looks like.
Retinal Detachment: Torn or Detached Retina Causes
Vitreous fluid normally shrinks as we age, and this usually doesn’t cause damage to the retina. However, inflammation (swelling) or nearsightedness (myopia) may cause the vitreous to pull away and result in retinal detachment.
Retinal Detachment: Torn or Detached Retina Diagnosis
Only after careful examination can your ophthalmologist tell whether a retinal tear or early retinal detachment is present.
Some retinal detachments are found during a routine eye examination. That is why it is so important to have regular eye exams.
Retinal Detachment: Torn or Detached Retina Treatment
Most retinal detachment surgeries (80 to 90 percent) are successful, although a second operation is sometimes needed.
Some retinal detachments cannot be fixed. The development of scar tissue is the usual reason that a retina is not able to be fixed. If the retina cannot be reattached, the eye will continue to lose sight and ultimately become blind.
After successful surgery for retinal detachment, vision may take many months to improve and, in some cases, may never return fully. Unfortunately, some patients do not recover any vision. The more severe the detachment, the less vision may return. For this reason, it is very important to see your ophthalmologist regularly or at the first sign of any trouble with your vision.