Danger level: High
What is it?
Retinal detachment is an emergency situation that damages your eye’s retina and which can cause blindness.
Who gets it?
Retinal detachment occurs in about 1 in 10,000 people each year. It is more common in certain situations –
- Aging – Although it can happen to young people, retinal detachment is more common when you age. Most cases occur between the ages 50 and 75.
- Nearsightedness – People with large numbers in their glasses are more prone to it.
- After surgery for cataract
- After an injury or trauma to the eye
- If you had the condition in one eye – The other eye is more prone to it.
- A family history – If someone in your family had it, your chances of developing the condition are higher.
What causes it?
To understand that, you must first understand some basic facts about the anatomy of the eye:
The back part of our eyes is composed of a layer, shown in the drawing in yellow. This layer is called the retina. It’s composed of nerves, and its role in the eye is like the role of a film in a camera – It captures the image, transforms it into an electrical signal, and then sends that signal to our brain.
In retinal detachment, one layer of the retina detaches from another layer of it, causing it to stop working correctly.
What causes the actual detachment? As you can see in the drawing, most of our eye is filled with a gel called vitreous, which is attached to the retina. When we age, that get turns more and more into liquid and shrinks, a process known as posterior vitreous detachment or PVD. When it does, it may pull the retina with it, causing tears in it. These tears allow fluid within the eye to collect under the retina, which may cause the layers of the retina to detach from one another.
There are other types of retinal detachment caused by other conditions, which we will not cover here.
How does it feel?
When PVD occurs (well before a retinal detachment occurs) people start seeing floaters and flashes.
Floaters are bits of debris that appear as spots, hairs or strings in your field of vision. It’s best seen when looking at a light colored surface, such as the sky or a white wall.
Flashes are sparkles of light that you see suddenly, mostly with your eyes closed.
Floaters and flashes serve as a warning sign that you should visit an ophthalmologist. Sometimes, though, a retinal detachment can appear without any warning. You will see floaters or flashes that appear suddenly. You may also see a shadow in the periphery of your field of vision that doesn’t go away and that may continue to a blurry vision.
How is it discovered?
Retinal detachment can be discovered by an ophthalmologist by looking at your retina with a special instrument called an ophthalmoscope, which is a sort of magnifying tool helping to see any holes, tears or detachments in the retina.
How is it treated?
Retinal detachment requires emergent treatment. Otherwise vision may be lost.
The only way to repair a detachment is through surgery.
What happens after treatment?
That depends on a few factors, such as how much time passed from the detachment to the repair, the area in the retina that was detached, and others.
The bottom line – How do I avoid it?
You can’t prevent PVD from occurring. However, when you get holes or tears in your retina, you can prevent a detachment from occurring by visiting your doctor. A laser treatment can seal retinal tears and prevent a detachment from happening.
Also, as we mentioned above, sometimes a tear can be caused by an injury to the eye. If you’re in a condition which puts your eyes in danger (such as during sports – boxing, racquetball, etc. , or when working with power tools) wear protective glasses.
This video sums it all up –