What is the Retina?
The retina is the inner layer of tissue on the back wall of the eye which helps convey images to the brain along the optic nerve. The eye’s cornea, pupil and lens focuses what you see onto a layer of photoreceptors, acting like a projector displaying a movie onto a screen. But instead of a screen, the photoreceptors are made up of small rods and stems, which send the images along the optic nerve to your brain.
Because your retina is so closely related to your optic nerve, it is both very fragile and impossible to fix with current technology should serious damage occur to it. Regular eye exams are key in ensuring your retina remains healthy.
Filling the space between your lens and retina is a clear gel known as vitreous. When your eyes focus light onto your retina, the light passes through this gel. Through the natural aging process, the vitreous in your eye may shrink. Because the vitreous gel is attached to the retina, this movement can pull on the retina and in some cases, tear the retina.
Should a retinal tear occur, fluids can move through the opening, causing the retina to lift off of from the inner wall of the eye. When the retina detaches, your eyes are no longer focusing images on the concave surface of your inner eye, but instead on this abnormal surface.
This can cause your vision to:
• Become blurry
• Have a marked increase in the number of flashes or floaters
• lead to a sudden drop in the quality of your vision
If you ever experience these symptoms, please call our office immediately. Dr. Alan Mendelsohn or Dr. Nathan Klein will examine you right away. If you have developed a retinal detachment and it goes untreated, it can result in permanent blindness because the retina is separated from its blood supply (with necessary oxygen and nutrients) and can no longer function properly.
What Causes a Detached Retina
Many conditions can lead to a retinal detachment, in which the retina separates from the back wall of the eye, like wallpaper peeling off a wall. In addition to the natural aging process there are other conditions that can lead to a detached or torn retina. For instance, a severe eye injury or inflammation can cause damage to the retina. Nearsightedness (myopia) can also cause the vitreous to pull away, which could also result in a retina tear. Previous retinal detachment, eye surgery or even simply a genetic disposition can lead to this issue. Furthermore, diabetics have an increased prevalence of retinal detachments, especially when there is bleeding in the retina (diabetic retinopathy). A similar situation occurs in individuals with sickle cell disease or trait due to sickle cell retinopathy. Lastly, preexisting weaknesses in the retina, such as retinal lattice degeneration, can be seen by an ophthalmologist during a comprehensive eye exam, leading to prophylactic treatment.
Treating a Detached Retina
There are several ways to correct a detached retina, all of which require surgery. Two common methods involve your ophthalmologist sealing the retina to the backwall of the eye by either using a laser (Photocoagulation) or by freezing (Cryopexy).
Another common method to correct a detached retina is by injecting either fluids or gas into the area where the vitreous gel should be. These methods help reattach the retina to the inner wall of the eye.
After a successful surgery, your vision may take several months to fully return. In some cases, the detachment may be too severe to correct the vision but a successful surgery can prevent further vision loss. A torn or detached retina can seriously impact your vision so it is very important to have your eye examined on a regular basis.