The retina is a delicate layer of tissue lining the inside of the eyeball at the back. Its function is to detect incoming light, convert the light into neural signals, and forward these signals to the visual processing centres of the brain. It’s a complex piece of anatomy and crucial for vision. This part of the eye can also be subject to a number of retinal eye conditions, many of which can result in permanent sight impairment.
One of these is an ocular emergency known as retinal detachment. Being able to recognise early retinal detachment symptoms is essential to improving the prognosis of your sight. Keep reading to find out what you need to know about retinal detachment.
What is a Retinal Detachment?
As the name suggests, a retinal detachment occurs when the retinal tissue comes away from the wall of the eyeball. Many eyecare practitioners will describe this as wallpaper peeling away from the wall. The retina relies on oxygen, nutrients, and other metabolic support from the underlying tissues of the eye, such as the choroid layer. In addition to no longer being able to receive this crucial support, a retinal detachment also means the retinal cells are unable to transmit their neural signals onward through the visual pathway.
A retinal detachment is one of those retinal eye conditions that constitute an emergency. The success of retinal detachment surgery and restoration of sight depends, in part, on how long the retina has been detached for. This is why being able to recognise when you’re experiencing retinal detachment symptoms is important for seeking urgent medical attention.
What are the Retinal Detachment Symptoms?
Retinal detachment symptoms can vary. Not everyone will experience all the symptoms, and in fact, some patients may have an asymptomatic retinal detachment that’s only incidentally detected on a routine eye check-up. However, more often than not, you will notice that something is unusual if you are experiencing detachment.
These are the common symptoms of retinal detachment:
- Flashing lights. The medical term for this is photopsia. You may see what looks like a lightning flash out of the corner of your eye, or it may feel like the sudden flash of a reflection from a surface. Many people report this as being the most apparent when they move their eyes or shake their heads, and it may be more noticeable when the environment is dark. Photopsia during a retinal detachment occurs because as the retina is pulling away from the wall of the eyeball, it mechanically stimulates the neurons to fire, inducing the perception of light.
- Floaters. Floaters are dark or translucent specks, lines, squiggles, or cobwebs-like shapes that you see in your vision. Sometimes people may think they’re seeing actual spiderwebs or a cloud of flies in front of them. During a retinal detachment, floaters can arise from blood released from broken retinal blood vessels or from fragments of retinal tissue floating around the vitreous gel inside the eyeball. The onset of floaters can also be a sign of one of the retinal eye conditions that are a normal part of ageing, known as a posterior vitreous detachment. However, you can’t know for certain whether you’re experiencing a retinal detachment or a posterior vitreous detachment until you have an examination with an eye care professional.
- Blurred sight. As the retina comes away, it is no longer able to perform its job in enabling sight. This means in the area of detachment, you may realise you can’t see as clearly. This will be especially noticeable if your macula is involved in the detachment, as this part of the retina is responsible for your central vision, which we’re most attentive to.
- Dark, missing areas of your visual field. During a retinal detachment, you may feel like a dark curtain or shadow is coming across your field of sight. This represents the area of the retinal detachment where the retinal tissue is no longer able to perceive light.
A detached retina will most likely need retinal detachment surgery by a retinal specialist.
What to Do if You Think You’re Having a Retinal Detachment?
If you experience any of the symptoms of a retinal detachment, it’s important to see an eye care professional on the same day. GPs don’t have the necessary equipment to investigate a retinal detachment and will have to refer you to an eye care professional.
You can contact your local optometrist, who can discuss your symptoms with you. If they think the likelihood of a retinal detachment is high, they may suggest you go straight to your city’s eye and ear hospital or a hospital emergency department. Depending on your optometrist and their experience, they may alternatively recommend you come in to see them for an examination to see whether you need a referral for retinal detachment surgery.
If you are already under the care of an ophthalmologist, you can contact their rooms for advice. Only an ophthalmologist is able to perform retinal detachment surgery, typically one who has undergone specialist training in managing retinal conditions.
When you attend an eyecare appointment to investigate a retinal detachment, you should avoid driving. This is because your eyecare practitioner will need to perform a dilated eye exam to thoroughly assess the retina. You will have eyedrops instilled that will widen the pupil. The effect of a dilated pupil is that your clinician can see further out to the periphery of the retina, but it also means you will be quite glare-sensitive, and it may be difficult to see clearly for the duration of the eye drops. For most people, the eyedrops wear off after about an hour or two. For this period of time, your near sight may also be quite blurred.
Call us on (03) 9070 5753 today.
Note: Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks. Before proceeding, you should seek a second opinion from an appropriately qualified health practitioner.
Asymptomatic Rhegmatogenous Retinal Detachments.