Retinal detachment is a very serious condition that occurs when the retina pulls away from its supporting tissues. Since the retina can't work properly under these conditions, permanent vision loss might occur if a detachment is not repaired within 24 to 72 hours.
Who's at risk for retinal detachment?
Retinal detachment is considered a risk for the following groups of people:
- Nearsighted adults
- People who have had an eye injury or post-cataract extraction surgery
- People with a family history of retinal detachment
Retinal detachment might also be spontaneous. This occurs more often in the elderly or in very nearsighted people.
What are the symptoms?
- Flashes of light
- Showering effect of floaters (small flecks or threads) in the visual field
- Darkening of the peripheral visual field
There is no pain associated with retinal detachment, but if you experience any of the symptoms listed above, contact your eye doctor immediately.
How is retinal detachment diagnosed?
Retinal detachment is diagnosed through an eye exam by a retinal specialist.
How is retinal detachment treated?
There are a number of approaches to treating a detached retina. These include:
- Laser (thermal) or freezing (cryopexy) — Both of these approaches can repair a retinal tear if it is diagnosed early enough.
- Pneumatic retinopexy — This procedure can be used if the tear is small and easy to close. A small gas bubble is injected into the vitreous where it then rises and presses against the retina, closing the tear. A laser or cryopexy can then be used to seal the tear. This procedure is 85 percent successful.
- Scleral buckle — This procedure involves placing a silicone band (buckle) around the eye to hold the retina in place. This band is not visible and remains permanently attached. Thermal treatment might then be necessary to close the tear. This procedure is effective as much as 95 percent of the time.
- Vitrectomy — This procedure is used for large tears. During a vitrectomy the vitreous is removed from the eye and replaced with a saline solution. Its success rate is similar to that of the scleral buckle.
Can retinal detachment be prevented?
Early diagnosis is key to preventing vision loss associated with retinal detachment. It is important to get your eyes checked annually, and more often if you are at increased risk of eye disease. For example, in diseases with a high incidence of retinal disease, such as diabetes, routine eye examinations can detect early changes in the eye of which a person might not be aware. In addition, good control of diabetes can help prevent diabetic eye disease, and blood pressure control can prevent hypertension from damaging the retinal blood vessels.
In addition, regular eye exams are important for people who are nearsighted, and more prone to detachment.
If you are unsure about your risk, talk to your eye doctor. He or she can tell you how often you should have your eyes examined.