Health topics: A detached retina is a serious medical emergency – Here are some causes, symptoms, and what to do
What is a detached retina?
The layer of tissue that serves as lining for the eye is called the retina. It has several layers, and the most sensitive layer, the part that actually receives the light and turns it into electrical impulses to send those messages to the brain, is on the inside. It is literally “attached” to the layers outside of that, which hold blood vessels to nourish the sensitive, inner layer, and which encase the other layers to keep the globe intact. When this tissue is moved from the place it belongs in the back of the eye, the result is called retinal detachment.
When this sensitive, inner layer becomes detached, or “unglued,” from the layer that feeds it oxygen, there is dysfunction of this inner layer and with vision, and this is called a retinal detachment. It threatens to permanently cut off the blood supply of the retina and thus permanently threatens the integrity of the vision in that eye, causing blindness if not corrected immediately.
This is a MEDICAL EMERGENCY when it occurs, and the more prompt the action, the greater the chance of stopping any deterioration of vision and thus preserving some useful vision in the affected eye. Seek emergency care immediately.
How can one tell if there has been a retinal detachment or tear?
(1) One way to tell is the increase of the number of “floaters” one experiences. Floaters look like little, transparent, floating objects, most easily visible in bright light, because they actually float inside of the eye, in the fluid that fills the eye. When a detachment is happening, there is more of this “debris” that floats around, because of the loosening of the adhesion of one layer of the retina to the others.
(2) Another sign might be flashes of light in the eye or “halos” around lights.
(3) A “veil” moving across one’s normal vision field is also a sign of retinal detachment. In the medical world, this is more often referred to as a “curtain” over part of the vision field. This would be a type of blind spot or blurred spot, progressively getting worse, or “falling” like a curtain over one’s vision.
There are three types of retinal detachment. One type is Rhegmatogenous. This is a retinal tear that allows fluid to separate the retina from the cell layer that nourishes it. In the Tractional (meaning, “pulling”) type of retinal detachment, scar tissue causes the retina to separate. The third kind of detachment is Exudative. This is caused by retinal diseases or injury to the eye, such as from infections, or other diseases that might cause an increase in secretion of fluids.
According to the National Eye Institute, retinal detachment is more common in those over the age of 40, affects more men than women, and Caucasians more than African Americans. If one is extensively nearsighted, have already suffered a retinal detachment in the other eye, have had cataract surgery, or has a family history of the same, the risk for occurrence is greater. Diabetes, inflammation of the eye, and tumor may also be factors in some cases as well as glaucoma and very high blood pressure.
If you fit into any of these categories, learn the three most common signs of retinal detachment! Increase in floaters, a curtain-like blind spot descending or moving over your field of vision, and flashes of light, all usually occurring in a fairly sudden or rapid manner.
Retinal detachments generally require surgery, but the smaller tears can usually be treated in a doctor’s office with laser surgery or a freeze treatment called cryotherapy. These surgeries have a very high success rate, over 90%. It may take a few months to know the result of the outcome, however, and to know how it affected (or failed to affect, in the case of irreparable vision loss) the vision.
The bottom line, and thing to be remembered above all is that this is not a matter where one can “wait it out” to see if the vision problems clear up. It is a medical emergency that requires immediate attention.
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