The retina is a light-sensitive membrane located at the back of the eye. When light passes through your eye, the lens focuses an image on your retina. The retina converts the image to signals that it sends to your brain through the optic nerve. The retina works with the cornea, lens, and other parts of your eye and brain to produce normal vision.
Retinal detachment occurs when the retina separates from the back of your eye. This causes loss of vision that can be partial or total, depending on how much of the retina is detached. When your retina becomes detached, its cells may be seriously deprived of oxygen. Retinal detachment is a medical emergency. Call your doctor right away if you suffer any sudden vision changes.
There’s a risk of permanent vision loss if retinal detachment is left untreated or if treatment is delayed.
Symptoms of retinal detachment
There’s no pain associated with retinal detachment, but there are usually symptoms before your retina becomes detached. Primary symptoms include:
- blurred vision
- partial vision loss, which makes it seem as if a curtain has been pulled across your field of vision, with a dark shadowing effect
- sudden flashes of light that appear when looking to the side
- suddenly seeing many floaters, which are small bits of debris that appear as black flecks or strings floating before your eye
Types and causes of retinal detachment
There are three types of retinal detachment:
Rhegmatogenous retinal detachment
If you have a rhegmatogenous retinal detachment, you have a tear or hole in your retina. This allows fluid from within your eye to slip through the opening and get behind your retina. The fluid separates the retina from the retinal pigment epithelium, which is the membrane that provides your retina with nourishment and oxygen, causing the retina to detach. This is the most common type of retinal detachment.
Tractional retinal detachment
Tractional retinal detachment occurs when scar tissue on the retina’s surface contracts and causes your retina to pull away from the back of your eye. This is a less common type of detachment that typically affects people with diabetes mellitus. Poorly controlled diabetes mellitus can lead to issues with the retinal vascular system, and this vascular damage can later lead to scar tissue accumulation in your eye that could cause retinal detachment.
In exudative detachment, there are no tears or breaks in your retina. Retinal diseases such as the following cause this type of detachment:
- an inflammatory disorder causing fluid accumulation behind your retina
- cancer behind your retina
- Coats’ disease, which causes abnormal development in the blood vessels such that they leak proteins that build up behind your retina
Who is at risk for retinal detachment?
Risk factors for retinal detachment include:
- posterior vitreous detachment, which is common in older adults
- extreme nearsightedness, which causes more strain on the eye
- a family history of retinal detachment
- trauma to your eye
- being over 50 years old
- prior history of retinal detachment
- complications from cataract removal surgery
- diabetes mellitus
- your vision
- your eye pressure
- the physical appearance of your eye
- your ability to see colors
(Image: Representation only)
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