A retinal detachment occurs when the retina separates from the outer layers of the eye. The retina is the innermost layer at the back of the eye that detects light, and helps to form visual images, similar to the layer of film at the back of a camera. If not treated early, retinal detachment may lead to partial or complete permanent loss of vision.
Normal vision Vision with retinal detachment
The initial symptoms are usually floaters and flashes in the eye. Floaters are dots or lines that you may see moving or floating in your field of vision. New onset floaters or an increase in floaters are of concern. Flashes are the sensation of flashing lights or lightning streaks in your field of vision. Another concerning symptom is the appearance of a "curtain" or dark shadow blocking part of or your entire field of vision.
A retinal detachment is a medical emergency. If you experience these symptoms suggestive of a retinal detachment, you should see an ophthalmologist immediately. If too much time lapses, the chances of successfully repairing the retina through surgery will be lower, and you may develop permanent vision loss.
Avoidance of eye trauma or excessive eye rubbing can help to reduce the risk of retinal tears and detachment. Frequent eye examinations can pick up problems early. With prompt treatment, a torn retina can be fixed before full retinal detachment occurs.
Retinal detachment occurs after a tear in the retina develops, allowing fluid to seep under the retina and detaching it from the wall of the eye. Over time, the detachment may cause part of the retina to lose contact with its blood supply and stop functioning. This is when you lose your vision.
Your risk of retinal detachment increases if you:
Diagnosis of retinal detachment is made by clinical examination. Your ophthalmologist will administer eye drops to enlarge (dilate) the pupils temporarily so that they can examine the retina. This is usually done with an ophthalmoscope, an instrument with a bright light and a special lens to examine the inside of your eye. The ophthalmoscope provides a highly detailed 3D view of the retina, allowing the ophthalmologist to see any retina holes, tears or detachments.
Occasionally, an ultrasound scan may be used to make the diagnosis. Ultrasound uses sound waves to create an image of the structure of the eye on a video monitor. The sound waves travel through your eye and bounce off the retina and other structures within the eye, to construct the image. Ultrasound scans are painless, and does not involve the use of any radiation.
There are a few different options to treat retinal tears or detachments, such as laser treatment or surgery, depending on the situation and severity. Your ophthalmologist will discuss the pros and cons of these options with you, and recommend a suitable treatment plan.
Retinal Tears When a retinal tear or hole has not progressed to a retinal detachment, your ophthalmologist may suggest an outpatient laser procedure to prevent the tear from developing into a retinal detachment.
Laser treatment does not close the tear but works by forming a scar around the retinal tear, to prevent the retina from detaching.
Retinal Detachment If your retina has detached, usually surgical procedures will be required to repair it. There are a few different surgical procedures used to repair retinal detachments, and your ophthalmologist will recommend the most suitable approach for you, which depends on factors such as the type of detachment and severity. Some of the potential options include:
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