Retinal detachment describes an emergency situation in which a critical thin layer of the retina tissue at the back of the eye pulls away from the layer of blood vessels that provides it with oxygen and nourishment. This occurrence leaves the retinal cells with lack of oxygen. The longer retinal detachment is left untreated, the greater is the risk of permanent vision loss in the affected eye. Fortunately, retinal detachment often has symptoms that are clear warning signs, so the patient can consult an ophthalmologist and get timely treatment, which can save the vision.
Retinal detachment usually only occurs in one eye. If the eye is affected, there is an up to one in 10 chance that retinal detachment will happen in the other eye as well. Retinal detachment itself is painless, but its warning signs and symptoms almost always appear before the condition advances and before patients lose their sight. Retinal detachment symptoms may include:
- The sudden appearance of many floaters — small bits of debris in the field of vision that look like spots, hairs or strings and seem to float before the eyes;
- Sudden flashes of light in the affected eye;
- A distortion or curtain over a portion of the visual field that develops as the detachment progresses
Retinal detachment can occur as a result of:
- Shrinkage or contraction of the vitreous (the gel-like material that fills the inside of the eye), which can create tugging on the retina and a retinal tear, leading to a retinal detachment;
- Advanced diabetes;
- An inflammatory eye disorder.
There are several other causes that are not so common, but they may trigger retinal detachment. They include:
- Damage to the blood vessels in the eye causes scar tissue to form, which can pull the retina out of position;
- The retina remains unbroken, but fluid from other areas gathers behind it.
The following factors increase the risk of retinal detachment:
- Aging — retinal detachment is more common in people older than age 40;
- Previous retinal detachment in one eye;
- A family history of retinal detachment;
- Extreme nearsightedness;
- Previous eye surgery;
- Previous severe eye injury or trauma;
- Previous other eye disease or disorder.
There is no certain way to prevent retinal detachment. However, being aware of the following typical warning signs of a detached retina could help save the vision:
- Sudden increase in floaters;
- Bright flashes of light;
A shadow or curtain that seems to advance across the visual field.