Detached retina is a medical emergency

To best understand what a detached retina actually is, and to be aware that it is a medical emergency, we’ll begin today’s lesson by explaining how our eyes work. If you find yourself blinking often, don’t be surprised. And if you’re a visual learner, there’s an animated image you can see if you use the keyword “retina” on the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s website: The following is the text:

“Light rays enter the eye through the cornea, pupil and lens. These light rays pass through the vitreous, a clear gel-like substance that fills the center of the eye. The light rays are focused on the retina, a light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. The macula is a very small area in the center of the retina that gives us fine central vision. The area of ​​the retina around the macula gives us our peripheral or side vision. The retina converts the light rays into signals that are sent to the brain via the optic nerve.”

It doesn’t hurt if your retina detaches; instead, you may experience all or some of the following symptoms: “Suddenly seeing flashing lights. Some people say this is like seeing stars after being hit in the eye,” says AAO. “I notice many new floaters at once. These may look like dots, lines, or cobwebs in your field of vision. A shadow that appears in your peripheral vision. And a gray curtain that covers part of your field of vision.”

Any of these symptoms is a medical emergency. Call your eye doctor or go to the emergency room as soon as possible. A detached retina can cause you to lose your vision. It’s not something you play the game of “wait and see”. The “seeing” can become a thing of the past.

Detached retina ranks third behind glaucoma and macular degeneration for threats to your vision. According to, “The annual incidence is about one in 10,000 or about 1 in 300 over a lifetime. Other sources suggest that the age-adjusted incidence of idiopathic retinal detachment is about 12.5 cases per 100,000 per year, or about 28,000 cases per year in the US. Certain groups have a higher prevalence than others.”

Who is at risk? According to Mayo Clinic, anyone can get a retinal detachment, but getting older tops the list, followed by anyone who has had a retinal detachment in the other eye. People with a family history of retinal detachment are also at higher risk.

Also, people with extreme nearsightedness (nearsightedness) are at risk; have had eye surgery, such as cataract removal; previously serious eye injury; previous eye diseases or conditions, including retinoschisis, uveitis, or thinning of the peripheral retina (lattice degeneration).

Mayo tells us that rhegmatogenic (reg-ma-TODGE-uh-nus, in case you want to pronounce it) detachments are the most common. “They are caused by a hole or tear in the retina that allows fluid to pass through and collect under the retina. This fluid builds up and causes the retina to pull away from underlying tissues. The areas where the retina detaches lose their blood supply and stop working, causing you to lose your vision.

What happens is that the vitreous changes in consistency and shrinks or becomes more fluid. “As the vitreous detaches or detaches from the retina, it can pull on the retina with enough force to cause a retinal tear. Left untreated, the liquid vitreous can pass through the tear into the space behind the retina, causing the retina to detach,” says Mayo.

People with poorly controlled diabetes may experience traction detachment. This happens when scar tissue grows on the surface of the retina, causing the retina to pull away from the back of the eye.

Those who have age-related macular degeneration or have had an injury to their eye, tumors, or inflammatory conditions may develop exudative detachment. This is different in that fluid accumulates under the retina, but there are no holes or tears.

Treatment almost always includes surgery. Your eye doctor will explain the different options that are best for you and your vision. Bonner General Health Ophthalmology Clinic can be reached at 208-265-1011.

Kathy Hubbard serves on the advisory board of the Bonner General Health Foundation. She can be reached at

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