What is the retina?

The retina is a nerve layer at the back of your eye that functions very much like film at the back of a camera. The retina collects information from the light entering the eye and sends that information to your brain.

What is a retinal detachment?

A retinal detachment occurs when the retinal tissue detaches from its normal position in the back of the eye. This usually occurs when a tear or a hole in the retina allows fluid to seep under the retinal tissue and peel it away from its natural position. When this occurs the retina is deprived of vital blood supply and will eventually lose its ability to send sensory information to the brain. A retinal detachment is a serious eye emergency that needs to be treated as soon as possible to avoid visual loss.

Risk factors of retinal detachment can include high myopia (nearsightedness), previous surgery, glaucoma, injury, previous retinal detachment in either eye or family history of detachments.

What is a vitreous detachment?

The vitreous is a clear gel that fills the middle of the eye. The term “vitreous detachment” is often confused with retinal detachment. However, they are very different entities. As we get older, the vitreous may harmlessly pull away from its attachment to the retina at the back of the eye and produce a small clump of tissue which is often perceived as a floater. Occasionally a vitreous detachment will actually pull off a piece of retina and thereby cause a retinal hole, tear or detachment

What are the warning signs of a retinal detachment?

  • Flashing lights are an important symptom and represent tugging of retinal nerve tissue (see flashes).
  • New floaters may occur secondary to blood floating in the vitreous (see floaters).
  • A gray curtain moving across the field of vision or loss of part of the field of vision.

* Any of these warning signs mandates an emergent visit to your eye doctor..

Treatment for Detached Retina

Most retinal tears need to be treated with either laser surgery or cryotherapy (freezing), which seals the retina to the back of the eye. In some cases an air bubble needs to be injected into the back of the eye so as plaster the retina back into place. Other treatments include surgical placement of a band around the eye (scleral buckle) which helps the retina regain its normal position. Vitrectomy (removal of vitreous gel) is very often done to remove the traction of the vitreous on the retina. Most retinal detachment surgery is successful if the detachment is detected in a timely fashion.

Will vision improve?

Vision may take weeks or months to improve and in some cases may never return fully. The vast majority of patients will experience improvement of vision if the detachment was detected and treated in a timely manner.

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