Retinal detachment is a serious and stealthy condition. Its first symptoms are easy to be dismissed – there’s no pain associated with them. But if the issue is not addressed right away, retinal detachment can cause permanent vision loss.
Retinal detachment is a disorder of the eye in which the retina – a thin layer of tissue that covers the back of the eye – pulls away from its normal position, separating the retinal cells from the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE), the pigmented cell layer that provides oxygen and nutrients to the retina.
What causes it?
Ensconced in the back of the eye, the retina is essential to the complex process of seeing. The retina contains cells that are sensitive to light and that trigger nerve impulses that pass via the optic nerve to the brain, where a visual image is formed. A healthy retina is essential for clear vision.
The eyeball is filled with a clear gel called vitreous – sometimes tiny clumps of the gel cast shadow on the retina, creating those tiny dots, mini-clouds and weirdly shaped specks that we sometimes see, especially when we’re looking at a plain, solid and well-lit background.
Age, trauma and other factors can shrink the vitreous, which in turn pulls on the retina, lifting it from the back of the eye. If this happens in small areas, they’re called retinal tears.
If enough fluid passes through a retinal tear, it can lift the retina off the back of the eye, in the same way, say, that a water leak infiltrated into a wall can set loose a sheet of wallpaper. That is a retinal detachment.
What are the symptoms?
Retinal detachment occurs more frequently in men than women, and more often in white folks. A history of retinal detachment in the family is an important factor, too, as well as age – people over 40 are more prone to retinal tears or detachment. Direct trauma to the eye can also cause serious retinal issues at any age.
How can you tell if you have a retinal tear or detachment? Common symptoms are:
- Increase of or sudden appearance of floaters — those tiny clumps of gel that float in the vitreous. Suddenly seeing a larger amount of floaters is a common symptom and an easy way to detect the issue.
- Flashes of light in one or both eyes.
- Blurred vision.
- Gradually reduced side (peripheral) vision.
- A curtain-like shadow over your visual field.
If you have one or more of these symptoms, and are older than 40 – especially if you’re older than 50 – ; have suffered recent trauma of the eye or previous eye disease or inflammation; if you have a family member who suffered retinal detachment; or if you are diabetic or extremely nearsighted, go see your eye doctor as soon as possible.
Retinal detachment is a vision-threatening condition that can be addressed and treated when properly diagnosed– but you have to catch it as soon as possible.