Eye Problems: Retinal Detachment

A few months ago my wife complained of black blotches in her vision. At first we weren’t concerned but, as the condition continued, we decided she should see the doctor. That was a good decision! Our ophthalmologist checked her eye and concluded that she had a torn retina – a serious eye problem. He referred her to a specialist in town who, fortunately, had an opening within a day or two. When she returned from this three-hour procedure, her retina had been repaired.

The retina is the area in the back of the eye where the light images are translated into electrical impulses and sent to the brain. Though at most the retina is only .2 to .5 mm thick (that’s only .02 inches), it contains seven million cones for clear vision and seeing color, and 75 to 150 million rods for seeing in reduced light. The retina is about 22 mm in diameter (about the size of a postage stamp) and makes up about 72% of a sphere. The macula is the central area of the retina that contains a high concentration of cones. This enables clear central vision to see fine details for close activities such as reading.

Retinal DetachmentA retinal detachment is a separation of the retina from the underlying tissue within the eye. Most retinal detachments are the result of a break, hole, or tear in the retina. This may result in bleeding if the retinal blood vessel is also torn. The cause may not be known but most retinal detachments are not the result of an injury to the eye. They are more common in patients who have undergone cataract surgery.

Retinal detachment is a serious condition for, if it is not treated, the patient will most likely lose all vision. The retina rarely reattaches itself. It is especially important to treat it before the macula is detached.

What might signal someone that he has a torn or detached retina? Flashes of light, sudden increase in the number of floaters in the eye, blurred vision, a dense shadow starting in the peripheral area of vision, straight lines that suddenly appear curved, or central vision loss could signal damage to the retina.

Three treatments are most commonly given to fix a retinal detachment. The first is called cryopexy and involves inserting a probe into the eye that is extremely cold. A scar will result and, hopefully, this scar will ‘weld’ the retina to the tissue once again. A second method is called pneumatic retinopexy. It involves placing a gas bubble into the eye that will help the retina return to its proper place. A third, and increasingly popular method of treatment is laser surgery. This is the method chosen to treat my wife’s problem. A laser is used to burn tiny spots on the retina. As a result, clots form reattaching the retina. It is painless and done in the doctor’s office with the patient fully awake.

What are the odds of full recovery after surgery? This depends on how far the tear has progressed. But for those who detect and treat it early, the operation has a more than 90% full recovery rate. Thankfully, my wife was one of those who experienced instant vision improvement with no side affects.