Your eyes do much more than just show you what’s in front of you. They also help you balance, interpret body language, and pick up on social clues, among other things. A retinal detachment, though, can take this all away from you in a very short time, which is why knowing the signs of the condition can help you get medical attention fast enough to hopefully forestall such an outcome.
The expert team of ophthalmologists at Retina Specialists specializes in diagnosing and treating retinal tears and retinal detachments. They want to impress upon their patients in the Dallas, Texas, area that these are serious conditions, and you should never ignore the signs of either one.
How we see
To understand what causes a retinal detachment and the signs it produces, it helps to know something about the eye’s structure. The best way to do that is to follow how light travels through the eyeball.
Ambient light first passes through a clear, curved, and tough membrane. The clear area allows the light to enter the eye. The membrane (called the cornea) focuses the light while also acting as a barrier to protect the eye from foreign objects.
Next, the light travels through a fluid-filled area called the anterior chamber (filled with aqueous humor) and then through the pupil to the lens, which fine-tunes the focus. Finally, it travels through the vitreous humor, another fluid-filled chamber, until it hits the light-sensitive retina all the way at the back.
The retina converts the focused images into electrical signals, which it sends to the brain through the optic nerve located behind it. Your brain decodes the signals so you can “see” the image.
What is a retinal tear?
As we age, the vitreous humor starts to shrink and thin out. Sometimes, as it contracts, it pulls on the retina so strongly that the tissue tears. This releases a host of floaters, solidified parts of the humor that drift in the liquid and cast a shadow on the retina as they pass by. They’re not dangerous in and of themselves, but they can indicate a serious problem, like a tear. If you see floaters, get them checked out.
Do not ignore these signs of a retinal detachment
Many eye diseases, including glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration (AMD), can rob you of your sight, but they have a gradual onset, so you may not know you have them until the disease is advanced.
A retinal detachment happens when the vitreous shrinks and fluid leaks through a retinal tear. The pressure builds up until the entire retina pulls away from its supporting tissue.
Retinal detachments usually occur suddenly, generally from a blow to the head, as in a car accident or from playing sports. Signs include:
- Sudden flashing lights across vision, like seeing stars or flashes
- A build-up of new floaters in your visual field
- A shadow or black spot in your peripheral vision
- A gray curtain covering part of your visual field
- Sudden loss of sight
A retinal detachment is an emergency situation; if you don’t get prompt medical attention, you could lose your vision permanently.
Can you restore my vision?
If you come into Retina Specialists as soon as you notice the signs of a retinal detachment, we most likely can save your sight. We dilate your eye to view the retina directly and verify it’s become detached. After that, we’re likely to perform one of two surgeries — or combine them.
For a vitrectomy, your ophthalmologist removes the vitreous humor tugging on the retina and replaces it with an air, gas, or oil bubble whose purpose is to push the retina back into place so it can heal properly. If they use an oil bubble, they’ll remove it several months later. If they use an air or gas bubble, you’ll have some restrictions — you can’t fly in a plane, travel to high altitudes, or scuba dive, for example. That’s because the change in outside pressure causes the gas to expand, increasing intraocular pressure, itself a hazardous condition.
A scleral buckle can be performed as a standalone procedure or in combination with a vitrectomy. Your ophthalmologist sews a band of rubber or soft plastic to the outside of your eyeball. This gently presses the eye inward, helping the retina reattach itself against the eye wall. The buckle is usually left on permanently, but you won’t be able to see it.
If you notice any of the signs of a retinal detachment, don’t ignore them! Doing so can rob you of your sight. Instead, contact Retina Specialists immediately to make an emergency appointment. Call us at any of our five Texas offices — Dallas, DeSoto, Plano, Mesquite, and Waxahachie