Retinal detachment (also known as a detached retina) is a serious eye condition that involves the pulling away or loosening of the retina. The retina is a thin layer of tissue located at the back of the eye, and plays a crucial role in helping you have good vision. A normal, healthy retina works like an image processing centre, receiving the light that comes through the eyes and transmitting it to the brain. If the retina detaches from its normal position, light can no longer be processed and images cannot be formed, resulting in blindness. This is why a detached retina is considered an eye emergency.
What are the causes of a detached retina?
A detached retina usually occurs when the vitreous (the gel-like substance inside of your eye) changes its shape and becomes more watery. Changes in the vitreous shape can reduce its ability to keep the retina in place, leading to a detached retina. This change is associated with age and is more common in people aged 50 and above. In addition, there are some factors that may put you at a higher risk of developing this condition.
The most common risk factors include:
- 1. Being diabetic.
- 2. Genetic factors, such as having family members who have developed this eye condition.
- 3. Having suffered past trauma to the eye.
- 4. Having undergone cataract surgery, or other types of eye surgery.
- 5. Having extreme myopia or near-sightedness, since this condition causes a thinner than average retina that may be more prone to detaching.
- 6. Having history of eye disorders and other conditions affecting the retina and other eye tissues.
What are the types of retinal detachment?
- 1. Rhegmatogenous detachment is the most common type. It's caused by changes to the vitreous fluid and begins with a tear or hole in the retina that can cause a full detachment over time.
- 2. Tractional detachment is caused by scar tissue and is common in diabetic patients.
- 3. Serous or exudative detachment is a rare condition that can result from eye injury or inflammation.
What Are The Symptoms Of A
A detached retina is not painful, but it's still a medical emergency that can lead to vision loss, so it's essential that you are familiar with the symptoms and seek immediate medical attention if you experience any of the following:
- Floaters (specks, bubbles, or string-shaped images) that drift or “float” and interfere with your vision.
- Shorts bursts of light or flashes.
- A grey curtain-like shadow moving from the sides to the centre of your field of vision.
- A distortion in the perception of straight shapes and lines, which may appear curved.
- Loss of vision.
Retinal Detachment F.A.Q's
How is this condition diagnosed?
If you experience any of the symptoms listed above, your ophthalmologist will examine your eyes to confirm or rule out a diagnosis. Before the eye examination, your doctor will apply eye drops to dilate the pupils and be able to see into the inside of the eye. Next, your eye doctor will shine a bright light into the eye to look for any signs of a detached retina. If your symptoms happen after an eye injury that has caused bleeding, an ultrasound may also be needed.
If no abnormalities are found, your eye doctor may still ask you to go back in a few days' or weeks' time, as a detachment or tear in the retina may not happen at once and the eye examination may not show anything abnormal in the initial stages.
How is this condition treated?
Treatment varies depending on the stage and the severity of the condition. In cases where the retina has not fully detached and only has a small tear or hole, your eye care professional may choose to seal it or freeze it using laser technology.
Fully detached retinas can be repaired with surgery. Depending on the situation, an ophthalmologist may choose a vitrectomy (which reshapes the inside of the eye with a gas or oil bubble), or a scleral buckle, where a belt-shaped piece of surgical-grade material is placed around the eye to support the retina in its correct position. These procedures have high success rates and will help the retina reattach itself and function normally.
How can you prevent a detached retina?
Because in many cases detached retinas occur as part of the ageing process, 100% effective prevention is not always possible. However, you can minimise its impact on your vision through early detection and prompt treatment. Regular eye examinations are the best form of prevention, specially if you have an above-average risk of developing this condition.