When the retina separates from the deeper layers of the eyeball that normally support and nourish it, the retina is said to be detached. Without this nourishment and support, the retina does not function properly, and this can cause a variety of visual symptoms.
The most common type of retinal detachment starts when a tear or hole develops in the retina, and some of the gel-like substance that fills the inside of the eye (vitreous fluid) leaks through the opening. Eventually, the leaking vitreous fluid gets behind the retina, separating the retina from other layers of the eye. The retinal tear that triggers a retinal detachment is sometimes caused by trauma. More often, it is caused by a change in the gel-like consistency of the vitreous fluid that can occur as a part of aging.
Symptoms of a detached retina may include sudden appearance of dark, semi-transparent, floating shapes in the field of vision, brief, bright flashes of light that may be most noticeable when you move your eyes in the dark, loss of central vision, and loss of peripheral vision (the curtain effect). If any of these symptoms or noticeable changes in your vision occur, please contact your ophthalmologist, a physician who specializes in eye problems, immediately.
During a retinal examination, the doctor will check for retinal tears and areas of detachment by using a special hand-held ophthalmoscope (a lighted instrument for looking inside the eye) or a slit lamp. If necessary, your doctor will do more tests to determine the extent of your visual field loss.
There are certain groups who have an unusually high risk of developing this problem; including, people who have had cataract surgery, severely nearsighted people, and people who have had blunt trauma to the eye or penetrating eye injuries.
If you have a detached retina that is causing symptoms, you should be treated by an ophthalmologist, a physician who specializes in eye problems, immediately. Several techniques are available to repair retinal tears and to eliminate the area of separation behind the detached retina. Some options include scleral buckling, cryotherapy, laser photo-coagulation, pneumopexy, and vitrectomy.
Most retinal detachments are age related, and cannot be prevented. If you are middle-aged or older, you may be able to identify eye problems in their early stages by scheduling an eye examination with an ophthalmologist every one to two years.
This document is provided for informational purposes only. Please consult an eye care professional about symptoms that may require medical attention and may or may not be covered by your medical plan and/or routine vision plan.
Sources: American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) - www.aao.org