Your eyes are not only the windows to your soul, they’re your windows to the world. So if you suddenly lose your vision, you’ve lost a major connection to everything around you. There are many reasons you can lose your vision, but if the onset is sudden, it’s probably a case of retinal detachment, and you need immediate medical help.
The expert team of ophthalmologists at Retina Specialists, with five locations in and around Dallas, Texas, specializes in diagnosing and treating retinal tears and retinal detachments. They want to impress upon their patients the severity of these conditions, and they want you to understand why it’s critically important you come into the office ASAP if you experience a sudden loss of vision.
Seeing the light
To understand sudden vision loss, it helps to know something about how the eye is structured. The best way to do that is to follow light’s path through the eyeball. Ambient light first hits the eye’s surface, which is covered with a clear, curved, and tough membrane. The clear area allows the light to pass through. The curvature (called the cornea) focuses the light while also protecting the eye.
Next, the light moves through a fluid-filled area known as the anterior chamber (filled with aqueous humor) and then through the pupil to the lens, which focuses it more finely. Finally, it travels through the vitreous, another fluid-filled chamber, hitting the light-sensitive retina at the back of the eye.
The retina’s job is to convert the focused images into electrical signals, which it sends to the brain through the optic nerve behind it. Your brain then decodes the signals so you can visualize the image.
What is a retinal tear?
As we get older, the vitreous humor begins to shrink and get thinner. Sometimes, as it contracts, the humor pulls on the retina so strongly that the retinal tissue tears, releasing a host of floaters. These floaters are solidified parts of the humor that drift as the tissue shrinks, casting a shadow on the retina as they pass by. They aren’t dangerous in and of themselves, but they can be a sign of a serious condition, like a tear.
What does it mean if I’ve suddenly lost my vision?
While many eye diseases, like glaucoma or macular degeneration, can rob you of your sight, they have a gradual onset. If you lose your vision suddenly, it’s most likely due to a retinal detachment. A retinal detachment occurs when the vitreous shrinks and fluid from the eye leaks through a retinal tear. The pressure builds until the entire retina pulls away from its supporting tissue.
Retinal detachments usually happen suddenly, most commonly as a result of a blow to the head, as in a car accident or from playing sports. Symptoms include:
- Sudden flashing lights across vision, like seeing stars
- Numerous new floaters in your visual field
- A shadow in your peripheral vision
- A gray curtain covering part of your visual field
As with a retinal tear, this is an emergency situation, and if you don’t get prompt medical attention, you could lose your vision permanently.
Can you restore my vision?
If you get prompt medical attention for your retinal detachment, in most cases we can save your sight. After dilating your eye to view the retina directly and determine that it’s become detached, we’re likely to perform one of two surgeries — or both.
In this procedure, your ophthalmologist removes the vitreous tugging on the retina, replacing it with an air, gas, or oil bubble. The bubble serves to push the retina back into place so it can heal properly. If the doctor uses an oil bubble, he’ll remove it several months later. If he uses an air or gas bubble, you won’t be able to fly in a plane, travel to high altitudes, or scuba dive, since the change in outside pressure causes the gas to expand, increasing eye pressure.
In this procedure, your ophthalmologist sews a band of rubber or soft plastic to the outside of your eyeball, which gently presses the eye inward and helps the retina heal against the eye wall. The buckle is usually left on the eye permanently, but you won’t be able to see it.
If you’re experiencing any of the warning signs of a retinal tear, or if you’ve gone straight to vision loss, you need to come into Retina Specialists immediately to save your sight. Call us at any of our locations for an emergency appointment, or book online.