Retinal detachment is a rare but serious and sight-threatening event which occurs when the retina – the light-sensitive inner lining of the back of the eye – becomes separated from the underlying tissue. This may be caused by a hole or tear in the retina which allows fluid to get underneath, weakening the attachment of the retina which then becomes detached – rather like wallpaper peeling off a damp wall. Detached retina can also be caused by an injury or may be a consequence of other eye conditions or surgery, including cataract surgery.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of retinal detachment include:
- Flashes of light
- Showering effect of floaters (small flecks or threads) in the visual field
- Darkening of the peripheral visual field
There is no pain associated with retinal detachment, but if you experience any of the above listed symptoms, seek urgent medical advice.
Who is at risk from a detached retina?
Although detached retina affects only about one person per 10,000, it is more common in middle-aged people and those who are very short-sighted. If you have a detached retina in one eye, the risk of developing one in the other eye is increased. Very rarely, younger people can have a weakness of the retina, or it can be detached as a result of a blow to the eye or head. Retinal detachment can also occur as a result of laser refractive surgery (LASIK) but this is a rare complication. Cataract surgery, ocular tumours and diabetic eye disease are other possible causes.
What can be done?
A detached retina needs urgent medical attention. The sooner the retina is reattached, the better the chances of regaining vision.
There are numerous approaches to treating retinal detachment. These include:
- Laser or freezing. Both of these approaches can repair a detached retina if it is diagnosed early enough
- Pneumatic retinopexy. This procedure can be used to treat retinal detachment if the tear is small and easy to close. A small gas bubble is injected into the vitreous where it then rises and presses against the retina, closing the tear. A laser or cryopexy can then be used to seal the tear. This procedure is 85% successful
- Scleral buckle. This treatment for retinal detachment involves placing a silicone band (buckle)around the eye to hold the retina in place. This band is not visible and remains permanently attached. Thermal treatment may then be necessary to close the tear. This procedure is effective as much as 95% of the time
- Vitrectomy. This procedure for retinal detachment is used for large tears. During a vitrectomy, the vitreous is removed from the eye and replaced with a saline solution. It has similar success rates to the scleral buckle
Can retinal detachment be prevented?
Early diagnosis is key to preventing vision loss associated with retinal detachment. It is important to get your eyes checked regularly, especially if you are at increased risk of having eye disease. For example, in diseases with a high incidence of retinal disease, such as diabetes, routine eye examinations can detect early changes in the eye that a person may not be aware of. In addition, good control of diabetes can help prevent diabetic eye disease and blood pressure control can prevent hypertension from damaging the retinal blood vessels.
Regular eye examinations are important for people who are short-sighted, and more prone to detachment.
If you are unsure about your risk of retinal detachment, talk to your optician here at Purcell Opticians. They can tell you how often you should have your eyes examined.