What is a Torn or Detached Retina?

The eyes are delicate and sensitive organs, and there are many different ways in which they can be damaged.  One of the most serious of these is by a detached or torn retina, but even though it is not uncommon to have heard of this condition, many people don’t understand exactly what it means.  It is our hope, at Georgia Eye Physicians and Surgeons, that helping patients to understand how a detached retina can occur and the symptoms they might experience when it happens will help them get the treatment they need and avoid any serious, long-term vision loss.

What is a Torn or Detached Retina

At the front of the eye is a flexible lens that focuses light onto a thin layer of photoreceptive cells that line the back of the eye, called the retina.  When stimulated by light, these photoreceptive cells transmit nerve impulses along the optic nerve to the brain, where they can be interpreted, allowing you to see.  However, when a break or tear in the retina allows fluid to get underneath, or when scar tissue on the retina’s surface causes it to contract, the retina can effectively pull away from the tissue around it, which separates, or detaches, it from its normal position.  This is what we call a detached retina and if it is not promptly treated it can cause permanent vision loss.

While a retinal detachment can occur in patients of any age, it tends to be more common in people over the age of forty.  It generally affects men more often than it does women, but people who are severely nearsighted, who have previously undergone cataract surgery, or who have suffered retinal detachment or a previous eye injury are at increased risk.  Most people are familiar with the condition because it can be the result of a sharp blow to the face or head, however it can be caused by various retinal diseases and inflammatory disorders as well, when no tears or injuries have occurred.

Patients who are experiencing retinal detachment most often report seeing sudden flashes of light or a significant increase in the number of translucent specks or cobwebs, commonly known as floaters, in their field of vision.  In fact, when people say that they “see stars” after a severe blow to the head it is often because the vitreous fluid inside the eye has temporarily pulled away from the retina, causing a similar visual effect.  Patients may also experience the sensation of a dark curtain being pulled over the field of vision in the affected eye.  If you experience any of these symptoms it is important that you see an eye care professional for a comprehensive medical eye examination as soon as possible.

Fortunately, with modern therapies, more than ninety percent of those with retinal detachment can be successfully treated.  Relatively small holes and tears can be addressed with advanced laser eye surgery or with a freezing treatment, called cryopexy, which re-adheres the retina to the eye wall.  In more severe cases, surgery involving the use of an intraocular gas bubble may be required.  If you have any additional questions about eye injuries, or any concerns about how to best maintain the health of your eyes, please contact Georgia Eye Physicians and Surgeons to schedule an eye exam with Dr. William Segal or Dr. Marc Lay. Be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ for more information on how to keep your vision clear and healthy.