While most people have heard of a retinal detachment, not everyone is as familiar with a retinal tear, a condition that precedes detachment.
At Retina Specialists, our team of expert ophthalmologists wants to educate our patients about the different eye conditions, including retinal tears and detachments. Because both can lead to loss of sight, many people ask about how they can prevent tears from occurring. Here’s what the experts have to say.
Looking into the eye
To understand what a retinal tear is and why it’s harmful, it helps to know something about the eye’s anatomy. The best way to visualize the anatomy is to follow light’s path through the eyeball.
Ambient light first strikes the eye’s surface, which is covered with a clear, curved membrane. The clearness allows the light to pass through. The curvature (cornea) focuses the incoming light while also protecting the eye.
Next, the light travels through a fluid-filled “anterior chamber” (filled with aqueous humor) and then through the pupil to the clear lens, which refines the focus. Finally, it moves through the vitreous, another fluid-filled chamber, striking the light-sensitive retina at the back of the eye.
The retina converts the focused images into electrical signals, sending them to the brain through the optic nerve behind it, and your brain then decodes the signals so you can “see” the image.
What is a retinal tear?
As we get older, the vitreous humor begins to thin and shrink. If it gets too thin in places, you develop retinal holes, which can affect your vision.
Sometimes, though, as the vitreous contracts, it tugs on the retina so strongly that the retinal tissue tears in places. One of the key symptoms of a tear is a large number of new floaters (black spots or lines) in your visual field.
The floaters are solidified parts of the humor that cast a shadow on the retina as they drift by, becoming encoded as black spots in your vision. Floaters aren’t dangerous in and of themselves, but they can be a sign of a serious condition, like a tear, so you need to get them checked out ASAP.
What does it mean if I suddenly lose my vision?
Many eye diseases, such as glaucoma and macular degeneration, can destroy your sight, but they have a gradual onset. If you lose vision suddenly, it’s most likely because of a retinal detachment. A retinal detachment occurs when the shrinking vitreous and fluid from the eye leaks through a retinal tear. The pressure inside the chamber increases until the entire retina pulls away from its supporting tissue.
Retinal detachments most often occur suddenly, usually as a result of a blow to the head, as in a car accident, a fist fight, or from playing sports. However, they can occur due to simple aging.
Can I prevent retinal tears and detachment?
Unfortunately, the answer is no, but you can take steps to lower your risk:
Get regular eye care
A yearly comprehensive, dilated eye exam helps protect your eye health, especially if you’re nearsighted, as myopia makes you more prone to retinal detachment. Your Retina Specialists doctor always dilates your eyes to see the internal structures, and this helps them also find retinal tears early, before they start affecting your vision.
Always wear safety goggles when working with chemicals or mechanical devices to prevent an eye injury. Also wear proper eye protection when playing sports, especially contact sports.
Get prompt treatment
If you notice symptoms of a detached retina, such as a host of new floaters, blurry vision, or no vision at all, come into our office immediately, or go to the nearest emergency room. Without treatment, you could permanently lose your vision.
If you experience blurry vision along with floaters, this could indicate a retinal tear. Come into our office as soon as possible before it becomes a full-blown detachment.
Concerned about your vision? Experiencing symptoms of a retinal tear? Call Retina Specialists at any of our five Texas offices — Dallas, DeSoto, Plano, Mesquite, and Waxahachie.