A retinal detachment is a serious and sight-threatening event, occurring when the retina – the light-sensitive inner lining of the back of the eye – becomes separated from its underlying supportive tissue. The retina cannot function when it detaches and, unless it is reattached soon, permanent vision loss may result.
Signs and symptoms of retinal detachment
- Sudden appearance of numerous black spots or cobwebs. Commonly called floaters.
- Flashes of light. Often similar to lightening streaks and sometimes more apparent when eyes are closed
- Sudden blurrying or decrease in vision in one eye.
- Sudden appearance of a shadow or a curtain blocking vision in one direction. or across from the side. These symptoms can occur gradually as the retina pulls away from the supportive tissue, or they may occur suddenly if the retina detaches immediately.
There is no pain associated with retinal detachment and the symptoms described above may not necessarily mean you have a detachment retina. However, if you experience any of the above symptoms, consult your eye doctor right away. Immediate treatment is key to preventing vision loss or blindness.
What causes retinal detachments or increases the chance of having a detachment?
- Trauma to the eye or face.
- High amounts of nearsightedness. Extremely nearsighted people have longer eyeballs with thinner retinas that may be more prone to detaching.
- Previous cataract surgery.
- Previous retinal detachment in the other eye.
- Family history of retinal detachment.
- Eye disease and systemic diseases such as diabete and sickle cell disease. New blood vessels growing under the retina, which sometimes occurs in these diseases, may seperate the retina from the underlying support tissue.
- Eye tumors
On rare occasions, retinal detachment may occur after LASIK surgery in highly nearsighted individuals. In a study of more than 1,500 LASIK patients, just four suffered retinal detachment; their pre-LASIK prescriptions ranged from -8.00 D to -27.50 D.
Treatment for retinal tears and detachments
Surgery is the only effective treatment for a torn or detached retina. The procedure or combination of procedures your doctor uses depends on the severity and location of the problem.
Laser surgery. Also called photocoagulation, laser surgery is generally used for retinal breaks and tears that have not yet become retinal detachments. The surgeon directs a laser beam into your eye through the pupil to “spot weld” the damaged retina to its underlying tissue. Photocoagulation requires no surgical incision and causes less irritation to the eye than other treatments.
Cryopexy. In this treatment, the surgeon applies a freezing probe to the outer surface of the eye over the area of defective retina. The scarring that occurs from the freezing reattaches the retina to its support tissue.
Pneumatic retinopexy. This surgery is generally used to treat a retinal detachment in the upper half of the retina. The surgeon injects an expandable gas bubble inside the eye, positioning the bubble over the torn and detached retina. As the gas bubble expands, it pushes the detached retina against its support tissue. The surgeon then may use laser photocoagulation or cryopexy to firmly reattach the retina to the underlying tissue. Over time, your body absorbs the gas bubble. Until that occurs, certain precautions are necessary.
In a variation of pneumatic retinopexy, the surgeon may inject silicone oil rather than expandable gas into the eye to press the detached retina against its support tissue. In this procedure, the silicone oil must be removed from the eye after the retina is reattached.
Scleral buckling. This is the most common surgery used to treat a retinal detachment. In this procedure, the surgeon places a soft silicone band around the eye, which indents the outside of the eye toward the detached retina. The band is sutured against the tough outer white coating of the eye (the sclera). The surgeon then drains any fluid between the retina and its support tissue, and reattaches the retina with laser photocoagulation or cryopexy.
In about 90% of cases, detached retinas are successfully reattached with a single surgery. However, this does not mean your vision will return to normal. Patients who have the best visual outcomes from retinal detachment surgery are those who seek attention immediately upon noticing symptoms and have detachments that do not involve the central retina (the macula).