How serious a problem could retinal detachment be?

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Often on a bright sunny day, when you look at the plain blue sky, you see small dots, specks, or strings moving in your field of vision. These are known as floaters, and seeing them in such a setting is normal. These floaters sometimes seem as if they are floating in a liquid medium. Well, they are in fact: tiny clumps of gel or cells inside the vitreous gel in the eye that cast shadows on the retina.


Sometimes, people suddenly complain of an increase in the number of floaters they see, with flashes in the eye, reduced vision, or the appearance of a curtain over the field of vision. These symptoms are warning signs of retinal detachment, which is a medical emergency. If left untreated, it may lead to permanent loss of vision.


Statistics show that an incident of retinal detachment in normal, healthy eyes is around 5 in 100,000 persons per year. It usually affects people who are in their 60s or 70s, and it is more common in men than in women. A lifetime risk of developing retinal detachment in normal individuals is about 1 in 300.


What is retinal detachment?

The retina is a tissue in our eyes that is sensitive to light. It receives visual messages and sends them to the brain via the optic nerve. When this tissue is pulled away or is lifted from its normal position, it is called as retinal detachment. The retina does not function well once detached, and hence, the vision becomes blurry.


What are the causes of retinal detachment?

• Aging: Retinal detachment is common over the age of 50

• Severe myopia (near-sightedness)

• Trauma to the eyes

• Family history of retinal detachment

• History of cataract, glaucoma, or any other eye surgery

• History of retinal detachment in the other eye


Can retinal detachment be prevented?

If the warning signs are detected early, the consequences of retinal detachment can be minimised in some cases. Educating people about the initial signs and encouraging them to seek ophthalmic attention immediately is the most effective way to mitigate the effects of retinal detachment. Early examination helps in detecting retinal tears that can be treated with laser or cryotherapy, thereby reducing the risk of retinal detachment. For this reason, the governing bodies in some forms of sports require regular eye examinations. People with severe near-sightedness are usually advised by ophthalmologists to try and avoid exposure to activities that can lead to any trauma, increase in pressure within the eye, or rapid acceleration-deceleration, such as bungee jumping and roller coaster rides.


What is the prognosis of retinal detachment?

Currently, about 95% cases of retinal detachment can be repaired successfully. However, long-term outcomes of the surgery depend on the duration of the detachment and whether the tissue called as macula was detached. If the patient is treated before the macula detaches, the outcome is good. In such cases, 90% of patients have 20/40 vision (or higher) after the reattachment surgery. However, in other cases, vision may take months to improve, and in some cases, it may never fully return. Patients with chronic retinal detachment do not recover any vision. The more severe the detachment, and the longer it has been present, the lesser vision may be expected to return. Therefore, it is important that you see your ophthalmologist on the first sign of trouble.


If you have been experiencing any of the above mentioned signs, urgently visit an eye specialist.


Written by -

Meena Kumari