Retinal Detachment: A Medical Emergency

The sense of sight is very important — it enables us to get to and fro safely, perform our functions to the best of our ability, and essentially empowers us to live our lives to the fullest. By losing the ability to see, we would be compromising the quality of our lives exponentially. Yet somehow, among our senses, the sense of sight is sometimes the most neglected.

How so? Consider how you have been treating your eyes lately. Do you frequently stay up late and would get up the early the next day? Do you feel headaches when you stare at your computer for long periods of time? Do you read in the dark — and this includes browsing your newsfeed and timelines? Your eyes may be feeling tired, too, as if they can feel on their own accord. This blog is not necessarily about how badly we are treating such an important sense. Rather, this is about a medical emergency that can happen if you do not take care of your eyes.

Definition

According to the National Eye Institute (NEI), “The retina is a light-sensitive layer of tissue that lines the inside of the eye and sends visual messages through the optic nerve to the brain.” The NEI adds, “When the retina detaches, it is lifted or pulled from its normal position.”

Meanwhile, the Mayo Clinic warns that the condition “separates the retinal cells from the layer of blood vessels that provides oxygen and nourishment.” In any case, the longer retinal detachment is left untreated, the riskier it gets for the patient who may have permanent vision loss.

There are three kinds of retinal detachment, namely:

  • Exudative – Fluid leaks from underneath the retina, despite the absence of tears, breaks, or trauma. This is normally caused by retinal diseases, inflammatory disorders, and injury or trauma to the eye.
  • Rhegmatogenous – The most common among the types of retinal detachments, this means that there is a break or tear within the retina that allowed fluid to get under it to detach it from the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE).
  • Tractional – The scar tissue on the retina’s surface somehow contracts and triggers the detachment of the retina from the RPE. This can be caused by previous cataract surgery or an eye disease that left scar tissue.

Surprisingly, this dreaded medical emergency can occur at any age, although those who are above the ages of 40-50 are more prone to getting it. Other risk factors include:

  • Extremely nearsighted
  • Have a history of retinal detachment in the family
  • Have had cataract surgery or retinal detachment in the other eye
  • Have other eye diseases or disorders, or a previous eye injury

It also affects males more than females, and Caucasians more than African Americans.

Despite these grave pronouncements, however, retinal detachment is treatable and would leave little to no lasting impression, if it is treated early on.

Symptoms

The NEI says, “Symptoms include a sudden or gradual increase in either the number of floaters, which are little ‘cobwebs’ or specks that float about in your field of vision, and light flashes in the eye. Another symptom is the appearance of a curtain over the field of vision.”

Also, it is worth pointing out that retinal detachment does not hurt at all. However, other visible symptoms are:

  • Darkening of the peripheral or side vision
  • Blurred vision
  • A curtain-like shadow over the visual field

If these symptoms, together with floaters and light flashes, become present in your vision, then you should immediately seek the help of a doctor.

Causes

A retinal detachment normally occurs when the vitreous, or the gel-like material in the eye, leaks in the retina and collects the fluid underneath it. This leakage can be caused by a tear or hole in the retina. Age, one of the contributing factor to a retinal detachment, can cause the retina to be thinner. As such, the collapse of the vitreous can tag on the retina and cause a tear.

Once there is fluid under the retina, it can peel away the retina from the underlying tissues that are connected to its blood supply, resulting in vision loss or blindness.

Treatment

According to WebMD, there are four methods to treat retinal detachment. They are:

  • Laser (thermal) or freezing (cryopexy). Retinal detachment harnesses either laser therapy or cryopexy. Both methods are performed in the doctor’s office, and are effective treatments when the retinal tear is diagnosed early on.
  • Vitrectomy. Meanwhile, vitrectomy is a surgical procedure reserved for large retinal tears. The vitreous is completely removed from the eye and is replaced with a saline solution. Depending on the damage caused by the tear, the doctor can combine vitrectomy with other treatment methods for retinal detachment.
  • Pneumatic retinopexy. If the vitrectomy is for large tears, pneumatic retinopexy is a procedure for small and minute tears. A gas bubble is injected into the vitreous, which then rises and presses against the tear. This in effect closes down the tear. To complete the procedure, the doctor can use laser or cryopexy to seal the wound.
  • Scleral buckle. Lastly, a buckle made of a silicone band is sewn around the sclera, commonly known as the white of the eye. The buckle pushes the sclera towards the tear until the tear heals. The buckle is invisible and will be permanently in the eye. Similar to pneumatic retinopexy, cryopexy or laser therapy can be used to heal the wound.

Conclusion

While a retinal detachment is a medical emergency, it is not one that would rob you off your vision, provided it has been attended to promptly. Once you see the telltale floaters, flashes of lights, and other symptoms, and if you have the other risk factors, then it would be to your best interest to immediately consult a doctor.


Need treatment for retinal detachment?

Like the rest of our body, the eyes also need attention and care for it to function optimally for the rest of our lives. If you are suffering from retinal detachment, Arizona Retinal Specialists can conduct examinations and apply the necessary treatments to stabilize the problem. Call us today at 623-474-3937 (EYES).