The retina lines the inside back wall of the eye. It is a thin tissue made up of layers of cells. The retina contains the light-sensitive cells that tell the brain what you are looking at. It is lined on its front surface by the vitreous. This is a clear gel made largely of water and collagen fibers. It fills the center of the eye and lies between the retina and the lens. As we age, these fibers clump and release water.
A detached retina starts when the vitreous comes away from the retina. This may lead to a tear of the retina. Fluid can seep through the hole or tear and lift the retina away from the back wall of the eye. When the retina pulls away or detaches from the wall of the eye, vision is lost or impaired.
Who is affected?
While a detached retina can happen at any age, they most often occur in people over the age of 50. They are the result of changes in our eyes as we age. It is more common in eyes that have had cataract surgery and in very nearsighted eyes. It is seldom caused by eye trauma.
What are the warning signs?
- Light "flashes" and blurred vision
- The presence of a "veil" or shadow over part of the field of vision
- Large "floaters" or spots that travel across the field of vision. These could mean that the retina is torn or the fibers are clumped.
You should report any of these warning signs to the eye doctor right away. Prompt treatment may be needed to maintain your sight.
How is it treated?
Small holes and tears and very small detached retinas are often treated with laser in the doctor's office. In laser photocoagulation, pinpoints of laser light are used to create tiny burns around the hole to "weld" the retina back to the wall of the eye. Cryopexy is much the same, but instead of using heat, it freezes the area around the hole.
Surgical repair. If a great deal of fluid has flowed through the tear, a large detachment may occur and surgery may be needed. To repair the retinal detachment, the hole or tear must be sealed. A bubble of gas may be injected into the eye to press the detached retina against the wall of the eye. Treatment includes the use of laser or freezing treatment to seal around the hole. Alternatively, a band of silicone may be placed around the eye to indent the eye’s outer wall to help bring the retina in contact with the back wall. The fluid beneath the retina may need to be drained. In some cases, the vitreous must be removed and a gas bubble used to hold the retina in place against the back wall of the eye.
Ninety percent of detached retinas can be repaired. This does not mean that vision will be as it was before. There may be some loss in the quality of vision. If treated early, chances are greater that your vision will be restored. If the retina cannot be reattached, vision will continue to decrease and finally will be lost in the eye.
The Spanish version of this Health Facts for You is #7303.
The information provided should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
Last Updated: 12/08/2011
Copyright © 07/12/2011 University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#5689
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