Why you need to know about retinal detachment

Retinal detachment is a very serious eye condition that happens when the retina separates from the tissue around it.

The retina is the membrane that receives and transmits light to the brain for interpretation, and in the over-60s issues with your retina could cause impaired vision. If a small detachment occurs — and this is possible — but is left untreated you risk having it peel off completely thereby losing your vision.

It is a medical emergency.

Most retinal detachments result from a break, hole or tear. The glass-like gel that fills two thirds of the eye pulls lose and if the retina is weak it will tear. There might be some bleeding as a result of the break if a blood vessel forms part of the tear.

Liquid from the gel can pass through the tear and pool behind the retina. It’s that build-up of fluid that can cause detachment.

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It’s worth noting that breaks are not always caused by injury. But one thing is certain, retinal detachments develop more frequently as you get older.

Signs and symptoms of retinal detachment

Eye floaters are those floating spots, straight or curved lines in your vision as you look around.
Eye floaters are those floating spots, straight or curved lines in your vision as you look around.

Eye floaters could be an early symptoms of damage to your retina. You should see your ophthalmologist for a retinal test to determine what sort of damage you have.

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Floaters might not be associated with retinal detachment or a tear. There is a condition called posterior vitreous detachment (PVD).

Another thing you might experience is a sudden flash of light. It can be quite brief and is on the outside of the centre part of your vision (in the periphery). The flashes are more common when the eye moves.

If a shadow starts to appear in your peripheral vision and gradually spreads to the centre of your field of vision or you feel a transparent curtain begins to affect your vision, this could indicate a retinal tear that has progressed to a detached retina.

You should consult your eye doctor so they can make a diagnosis and commence treatment before further detachment occurs.

Other signs and symptoms to be aware of include straight lines appearing curved and a feeling that your eye is heavy.

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While studies show the occurrence of retinal detachment is relatively low, the risks of developing them include your age, whether you’ve had cataract surgery, if you’ve suffered trauma to the eye, if you are diabetic, and eye diseases such as lattice degeneration, high myopia, uveitis, as well as certain kinds of eye drops.

If you have a family member who has had retinal detachment, there is a possibility you could develop it too, the same goes if you have had a retinal detachment before.

To ensure you get the right treatment, you should consult your general practitioner who might refer you to an ophthalmologist for further investigation.

The risk of blindness from retinal detachment if left untreated is immense, so surgery is the most common method of treating the issue. This includes laser surgery, freezing (more commonly called cryopexy), scleral buckling, pneumatic retinopexy and vitrectomy.

Surgery is highly successful and there is only a small risk of complications — like bleeding in the eye, double vision, cataracts, eye infection and allergies to medications — after surgery.

Would you recognise a problem with your eyes? Have you ever suffered a detached retina?