What Are the Causes and Symptoms of Retinal Detachment?

Woman having eye surgery

If you suddenly lose part of your vision and see the sudden appearance of flashes or floaters, you may be experiencing retinal detachment in the back of the eye. Retinal detachment occurs when the retinal cells separate from the blood vessels. This situation creates an emergency requiring immediate medical attention.

If the retinal detachment is left untreated, you may suffer from permanent vision loss. So if you experience this condition, you may need to schedule an emergency medical exam. There is treatment available for retinal detachment. Below, we look more closely at the causes and symptoms of retinal detachment and what you can do if it happens to you. If you have any further questions, feel free to contact Gulf Coast Vision Center.

What Is Retinal Detachment?

The retina senses light and sends signals to the brain so that you can see. It contains millions of light-sensitive cells (rods and cones) and other nerve cells that receive and organize visual information. Your retina sends this information to your brain through your optic nerve, enabling you to see.

Retinal detachment is a severe eye condition in which a layer of eye tissue detaches from the surrounding supportive tissue in the back of the eye. When this detachment occurs, the retina can no longer sense light or send signals to the brain through the optic nerve. As a result, you may experience blurriness or total vision loss.

What Causes Retinal Detachment?

There are three main causes of retinal detachment.

Rhegmatogenous Detachment

Rhegmatogenous detachment occurs as a result of a hole or tear in the retina. When the retina tears, vitreous liquid in the eyeball leaks through the opening. The fluid accumulates under the retina, causing the retina to detach from the back of the eye. Aging, cataracts, surgery and injuries can cause rhegmatogenous detachment.

Tractional Detachment

Tractional detachment occurs when vitreous liquid puts pressure on the retina over time. With enough time and pressure, the retina will gradually detach from the back of the eye. Two of the most common causes of tractional detachment are diabetic eye disease and premature retinopathy, which is more common in children.

Exudative Detachment

Nearly every cause of retinal detachment involves liquid leakage or pressure against the eye. The same is true for exudative detachment. Fluid leaks out of blood vessels under or within the retina. Common causes of exudative detachment include Coats’ disease, eye tumors, autoimmune diseases or conditions such as scleritis or uveitis.

Symptoms of Retinal Detachment

Since retinal detachment causes no pain, it is easy to dismiss the symptoms as a temporary irritation that will go away. It is true that one symptom may not indicate a retinal detachment. However, if you experience multiple symptoms, you should consult your eye doctor right away. Plus, the symptoms of retinal detachment are straightforward and pronounced. Signs of retinal detachment may include the following:

  • The sudden appearance of floaters—specks that drift through your field of vision
  • Flashes of light in one or both eyes (photopsia)
  • Blurred vision
  • Gradually reduced side (peripheral) vision
  • A curtain-like shadow over your visual field

Leading up to the retinal detachment, you may notice that your peripheral vision is gradually declining over days or weeks. You may also notice a decrease in your vision or your ability to see. This can take the form of blurriness or the sensation that there is something in your field of vision.

What Happens if Retinal Detachment Is not Treated?

Blood vessels surrounding the retina provide oxygen and nourishment to the retinal cells. When the retina is detached from the blood vessels, the cells become malnourished. Untreated retinal detachment will usually result in permanent severe vision loss or blindness. The longer the condition goes untreated, the greater your risk of permanent vision loss in the affected eye will be.

You are also more likely to have scarring and fibrosis of the retina and other problems associated with long-standing retinal detachment. Because of the problems that caused the detachment to affect total vision, you may be blind in your other eye.

Treatment for Retinal Detachment

If your retina has detached, you will likely need surgery to correct the condition. The type of surgery you need will depend on several factors, including the nature and severity of the detachment. There are three main types of procedures that ophthalmologists perform.

Pneumatic Retinopexy (Air Injections)

The specialist injects a bubble of air or gas into the center of your eye. The bubble forces the affected area of the retina against the wall of your eye, discontinuing the flow of fluid into the space behind the retina.

Scleral Buckling (Eye-Surface Indentation)

This procedure involves sewing (suturing) a piece of silicone material to the white of your eye (sclera) over the affected area. The doctor indents the eyewall and relieves some of the force caused by the vitreous tugging on the retina.

Vitrectomy (Draining the Eye)

The surgeon removes the vitreous from the eye, along with tissue tugging on the retina. The doctor injects air, gas or silicone into the vitreous space to flatten the retina. The retina absorbs the air, gas or liquid, and the vitreous space will refill with body fluid.

How to Prevent Retinal Detachment

Retinal detachment is common. However, the following are some of the ways that you can prevent it from happening:

  • Schedule routine eye exams.
  • Talk to your eye doctor about the warning signs of retinal detachment.
  • Be proactive in addressing symptoms early.
  • Wear protective goggles when necessary.
  • Live a healthy lifestyle (diet and exercise).
  • Become more aware of vision problems when you get older.

Schedule an Eye Exam Today

Contact Gulf Coast Vision Center today at one of our Pace, Milton, Crestview or Pensacola locations to schedule a comprehensive eye exam.