Retinal detachment occurs when the retina becomes separated from the nerve tissues and blood supply underneath it. While painless, visually this has a clouding effect that has been likened to a gray curtain moving across the field of vision.
Retinal detachment is a treatable condition, but it must be taken care of promptly, or it can cause vision loss and in the worst cases, blindness.
What Causes Retinal Detachment?
Retinal detachment usually happens due to an exceptionally thin or damaged retina allowing eye fluid to enter it. As fluid gets in, it pushes the retina away from the supportive tissue underneath it, causing separation, and eventually, detachment.
The detached portion of the retina is no longer able to properly transmit light signals to the brain. Vision can also be disrupted by retinal blood vessels that leak fluid into the inner portion of the eye where vitreous, or gel-like like fluid would normally be. If the retinal detachment progresses into the macula, or central part of the retina, the impact on vision can become more severe.
Symptoms of Retinal Detachment
An eye care professional can determine retinal detachment through a number of retinal and pupil response tests, ranging from simple visual acuity testing to an ultrasound of the eye.
For the patient, the gray curtain mentioned above occurs after retinal detachment has already begun. Before this happens, there are signs and symptoms that can alert one to the possible onset of retinal detachment, including:
- Eye floaters accompanied by eye flashes
- Sudden onset of blurred vision
- Shadows or blind spots in the field of vision
Treatment for Retinal Detachment
Surgery has proven a highly successful treatment for retinal detachment, provided the condition has been detected early enough. To ensure that treatment can be effective, anyone experiencing the symptoms above should be given medical attention within 24 hours.
Typical surgical procedures include:
- Laser surgery: Repairs tears in the retina that are the underlying cause of separation
- Cryopexy: Applies intense cold to the underlying tissue, causing a scar to develop that holds the retina in place
- Pneumatic retinoplexy: a tiny gas bubble is placed in the eye that floats the retina back into place; usually accompanied by laser surgery to ensure the retina stays in correct position permanently.
- Scleral buckle: suturing a silicone “buckle” to the eye that indents the wall of the eye into a position that allows the retina to reattach.