What is the retina?
The retina is a light-sensitive extension of the brain that lines the inner surface of the eyeball. It detects light and converts the image of the external world into electrical impulses that are sent from the eye to the brain for interpretation along the optic nerve.
What is a retinal detachment?
During a retinal detachment, the thin retinal tissue lifts from its supporting tissue, initially causing loss of peripheral (side) vision. An untreated retinal detachment will spread into the central retina at which point central vision will be compromised. Retinal detachments are most often the result of a retinal tear.
There is no pain associated with a retinal detachment. A retinal detachment is a medical emergency, and it is recommended to contact your ophthalmologist if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms:
- a sudden or gradual increase in either the number of floaters and/or flashes in the eye,
- the appearance of a curtain or shadow over the field of vision.
What are the treatments for retinal detachment?
Small retinal tears and holes are treated with laser therapy or a treatment called cryopexy. Laser surgery aims to “weld” the tears back together using a series of tiny burns. Cryopexy freezes the area around the tear or hole and seals the retinal tear or hole.
Retinal detachments are treated through the use of surgery that is usually performed on an outpatient basis. A vitrectomy is one of the main options for repairing retinal detachments. During a vitrectomy, tiny incisions are made in the sclera, through which the vitreous inside of the eye is removed. After re-attaching the retina, a gas or silicone oil bubble is put into the space where the vitreous was removed, helping to keep the retina in place by pushing it back. The gas bubble dissolves over a few weeks, whereas the silicone oil may stay in place or be removed later during a second procedure. Either laser surgery or cryopexy is used during vitrectomy to “weld” the retina back in place.
A scleral buckle is another procedure used to repair a retinal detachment. A scleral buckle is a tiny synthetic band placed around the eye to push the eye against the detached retina and close the retinal tear. Scleral buckles are usually performed in combination with laser or cryopexy. Sometimes scleral buckles are used in combination with a vitrectomy.
Occasionally, additional surgery is needed to repair a retinal detachment. However, in uncomplicated retinal detachments that present shortly after onset, most cases can be successfully treated with a single surgery.