Retinal detachments are an absolute eye emergency and I have found that a lot of patients wait a few days to a few weeks after seeing symptoms of retinal before seeking treatment. Time is of the essence in these situations, so I wanted to go over signs and symptoms of a retinal detachment as well as what to expect as far as surgery and outcome after treatment.
First, what is a retinal detachment? Basically, a retinal detachment is when the retina (the tissue that lines the back of the eye) pulls away from the tissue underneath it. Think of it like wallpaper peeling off the wall. That tissue will then die because it isn’t getting oxygen and other nutrients it needs to survive. If not treated, it can spread, and the entire retina will detach. If the tissue is dead, it won’t function properly and result in being unable to see. The vision loss is irreversible, which is why it is so important to catch these quick and get treated.
Who is at risk for retinal detachment?
Unfortunately, everyone carries a risk. There are certain people who have a higher risk, such as very nearsighted people or people who have a family history of retinal detachment, but technically it can happen to anyone. Retinal detachments can be brought on by trauma to the eye, but often it is just random.
Symptoms of a retinal detachment
Since everyone is at risk for retinal detachments, it is important to recognize the signs and symptoms. The good news is that the symptoms are pretty obvious.
- The sudden appearance of many floaters. A few occasional floaters are normal, but this is more like a bee swarm of many floaters. Of course, if you ever are concerned with a floater, it is best to come in to the clinic to have it checked out.
- Flashes of light. These usually look like lightening streaks in your vision and will steadily worsen.
- Blurry vision
- Reduced peripheral vision that is worsening
- A curtain-like shadow coming over your vision.
There are some other causes for these symptoms but since a retinal detachment is an emergency it is important to get it checked by an eye doctor to confirm.
Depending on how much of the retina is detached, there a few different types of surgery to reattach the retina to the back of the eye. Freeze treatment or laser surgery can be used if there is a small hole or tear in the retina. This will seal the area around the hole or tear so it will not spread any further. If the area that is detached is larger, you may need surgery to put the retina back in place.
There are 3 types of surgery that doctors can do to fix a detached retina:
- Pneumatic retinopexy- A small air bubble is injection into the eye which will push the retina back into place so that the doctor can use a laser or freeze treatment to repair holes or tears. You will be able to see the air bubble in your vision after surgery, but it will go away with time. After surgery, your head will need to be held in a certain position for several days so that the bubble doesn’t move.
- Scleral buckle- This is where a tiny, flexible band is put around the white part of the eye (the sclera). The band pushes (gently) the sides of your eye inward toward the retina which helps it reattach. The band is permanent.
- Vitrectomy- Very small openings are made in the eye and most of the gel (the vitreous) is removed from the eye using a suction tool. Depending on your doctor’s specific plan, they can then laser or freeze the retina, they could inject an air or gas bubble in to hold the retina in place, or they may replace the vitreous with a clear fluid.
I hope this will help you recognize the signs of a retinal detachment so you are able to seek treatment quickly and we can prevent any significant vision loss. As always, if you are ever concerned, just call your eye doctor sooner rather than later!
Leave a Comment