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Retinal Detachments

Understanding the Retina

Before you can begin to understand the severity of a detached retina it is important to get an idea of what the retina is and how it functions. The retina is the light-sensitive tissue lining the back of our eye. Light rays are focused onto the retina through our cornea, pupil and lens. The retina converts the light rays into impulses that travel through the optic nerve to our brain, where they are interpreted as the images we see. A healthy, intact retina is key to clear vision.

* If the connection between the retina and the brain is detached transmission problems will result.

Retina Detachment

Retinal Tear Washington, DCThe middle of our eye is filled with a clear gel called vitreous (vi-tree-us) that is attached to the retina. Sometimes tiny clumps of gel or cells inside the vitreous will cast shadows on the retina, and you may sometimes see small dots, specks, strings or clouds moving in your field of vision. These are called floaters. You can often see them when looking at a plain, light background, like a blank wall or blue sky. As we get older, the vitreous may shrink and pull on the retina. When this happens, you may notice what look like flashing lights, lightning streaks or the sensation of seeing “stars.” These are called flashes. Usually, the vitreous moves away from the retina without causing problems. But sometimes the vitreous pulls hard enough to tear the retina in one or more places. Fluid may pass through a retinal tear, lifting the retina off the back of the eye — much as wallpaper can peel off a wall. When the retina is pulled away from the back of the eye like this, it is called a retinal detachment. The retina does not work when it is detached and vision becomes blurry. A retinal detachment is a very serious problem that almost always causes blindness unless it is treated with retina detachment surgery.

Risk Factors For Retinal Detachment

A retinal detachment can occur at any age, but it is more common in people over age 40. It affects White-Caucasian people more than African Americans.

A retinal detachment is also more likely to occur in people who:

1. Are highly myopic patients
2. Have had a previous retinal detachment in the other eye
3. Have a family history of this condition
4. Have had recent cataract surgery
5. Have diabetes

Treatment For Retinal Detachment

Despite the difficulty with getting to the retina and treating this tough condition over 90 percent of the people diagnosed with retinal detachment are treated successfully according to the National Eye Institute. This visual outcome is not always predictable and patients are encouraged to consult an ophthalmologist about the their specific retinal detachment problem.

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