Retinal detachment

The back of your eye contains a thin lining called the retina, which sends the signals to your brain that allow you to see. However, in some instances the retina will suddenly pull away from the blood vessels that supply it with its nutrients and oxygen. We call this, retinal detachment. It is relatively rare and mainly affects older people, typically from the age of 60 and above.

Warning signs and symptoms

There are several warning signs that can help you identify if you are at risk of losing your sight as a result of retinal detachment including:

  • Short, spontaneous flashes of light that last a second
  • Blurry and distorted vison -Sudden streaks, specs and spots that come into your field of vision 
  • Large single floaters in your eye that have the appearance of a housefly 
  • A sudden feeling of a curtain veil obscuring your vision

Retinal detachment tends to only happen in one eye. The chance of it occurring in both eyes are one in ten. Whether it’s one eye or two, if you experience any symptoms it’s best to seek medical attention and immediately go to see your doctor.

Causes

In less common cases, retinal detachment will be caused due to an injury of the eye. Boxers often succumb to detachments when given harsh blows to the eye. Previous eye surgery, such as cataract removal, may also make the retina more vulnerable to damage.

More commonly, however, the condition is the result of aging. The retina becomes thinner and more brittle over time, and may detach from the blood vessels beneath. The nerves send signals to the brain which allow you to see, and if the nerves are not being given a substantial amount of blood, the nerve cells die, which can result in loss of sight.

Diagnosis

The faster retinal detachment is treated the better, as failure to treat the problem could result in permanent vision loss.

If your GP suspects you have a retinal detachment, they will refer you to an ophthalmologist who will examine your eyes with an ophthalmoscope or may go one step further with an ultrasound scan if needed.

Treatment

Surgery is often required to reattach loose retinas and most treatments are successful. Depending on the individual and scale of the problem, there are a number of different surgeries available. Surgery can be done under general and local anesthetic depending on the doctors and patient’s personal preference.

Recovery ranges from a few weeks to many months, during which time you are likely to experience reduced vision initially, which should improve as you heal. Some people may experience reduced peripheral or central vision, even if the retina is reattached.

Leaking fluid, and feelings of stickiness and itchiness around the eye are common after surgery.

Quick links:


Do I need an eye test?
A guide to blurry vision