Understanding Retinal Detachment

Bothered by the sudden appearance of floaters? Troubled by hazy vision? Check with your doctor fast. You could be suffering from a retinal detachment that can make you blind!

The retina is a thin membrane attached to the back of the eye. It carries specialized sense receptors that make vision possible. These retinal cells are known as rods (which register black and white only) and cones (which react to color). A person has about 10 million cones and 100 million rods on the retina of each eye.

To work properly, the retina gets oxygen and nutrients from under blood vessels. If it separates from this layer of blood vessels, the problem is called a retinal detachment.

Retinal detachment affects 20,000 people annually in the United States alone. It may follow an injury to the eye, cataract surgery or severe nearsightedness. More men than women develop this condition and the risk increases in people with tumors of the eye and hyper¬tension. A genetic factor may also be involved as the condition tends to run in families.

"Retinal detachment is a medical emergency, and time is critical." "Without the detached retina is promptly surgically reattached, this condition can cause permanent loss of vision in the affected eye," according to the Mayo Clinic.

However, symptoms almost always appear before the retina detaches. As the vitreous fluid (the jellylike substance inside the eyeball) shrinks and sags, it may tug on the retina, producing the sensation of flashing lights. is strong enough and causes a retinal tear, small blood vessels will be damaged, allowing blood to see into the vitreous and causing hazy vision and the sudden appearance of new floaters (dark or light spots or specks or lines in the field of vision) "said Dr. David E. Larson, editor-in-chief of the "Mayo Clinic Family Health Book."

Whether or not surgery will help depends on the patient's case. If the retina is merely torn but has not yet been detracted from underlying blood vessels, the physician can repair the damage by laser treatment (photocoagulation) or cryopexy (in which acute cold is applied to form a scar and hold the retina in place). Both can be done on an outpatient basis.

Surgery is necessary if the retina is washed but this should be done quickly since rods and cones die if they are separated from their source of nourishment for a long time. Once this happens, the patient becomes blind and nothing can restore his or her vision.

"Doctors commonly use one of three surgical procedures to repair a retinal detachment. Some of these procedures are done in conjunction with photocoagulation or cryopexy. The purpose of these treatments is to close any retinal holes or tears and to reduce the tug on the retina from a shrinking vitreous. The type, size and location of any retinal detachment will determine which procedure your eye surgeon recommends. In general, these surgeries can successfully treat more than 90 percent of cases of retinal detachment, although a second treatment is sometimes necessary, concluded the Mayo Clinic.

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