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A Retinal Detachment Can Happen to You

A Retinal Detachment Can Happen to You
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As we age our eyes succumb to many conditions.  Retinal tears and detachment are too common.

One morning I woke up with a number of floaters in my right eye. Floaters are those strange little things that crisscross our eyes and that we can never seem to see because they move with our eyeball.  But this was different.  The floaters were everywhere and smaller floaters appeared in the background.  As a creative guy I was fascinated, but then logic kicked in.  Something was wrong.  I casually mentioned it to my wife who happens to be a nurse.  She stood and said, “You have to go to the emergency room immediately!  Those are all of the signs of a retinal tear!”

I scoffed but reluctantly went to the eye clinic the next day. After hours of waiting and tests the doctors agreed.  I had a retinal tear and was days away from permanent blindness in my right eye.  I’ll never doubt my wife again.  The doctors also said something relevant to all of us.  People 50 and over are prime candidates for a retinal tear.  Here are the symptoms, tests, diagnosis and the treatments plus prognosis.


The primary symptom of a retinal tear is an increase in floaters in the eye plus something called “flashes.” Flashes are temporary flashes of light in the peripheral vision or side of the eye.  Floaters are those little things that dance around our eyes and an increase demonstrates that blood is leaking into the vitreous liquid that fills our eyeballs.  If this occurs with you, see an eye doctor immediately.  Chances are good you have a retinal tear which could lead to a retinal detachment.

What is the retina? 

The retina is the back of our eyeball that receives light and transfers it to the brain to process the images we see. A retinal tear can cause fluid to build up behind the retina and detach it from the eyeball resulting in partial or permanent blindness.  Retinal tears are common particularly with people with a genetic predisposition called “Lattice Degeneration.”  This is a thinness in the retina that predisposes someone to retinal tears.

What is a “Retinal Detachment?” 

A retinal detachment is when the retina separates from the back of eyewall.  This is often a permanent condition and results in partial or total blindness.  This condition is rarely treatable although there are techniques that have been developed.  The best way to avoid this possibility is to recognize the symptoms and seek immediate treatment.

Diagnosis and tests 

A medical ophthalmologist will dilate your eyes and do an extensive scan of your retina. A bright light will be shined into your eyes and you’ll be asked to move your eyes in a variety of directions while they assess your retina.  The doctor will use a magnifying glass to study your retina and assess your condition.  Often, they will poke a finger onto your face to help you know where to direct your eyes while performing the test.


There are a number of treatments depending on the severity of your condition. The simplest treatments involve the use of a cryogenic scalpel or a laser.  The cryogenic scalpel freezes the tear while the laser heals the tear with small laser burns around the tear.  For more advanced conditions like a partial retinal detachment, a gas is injected into the eyeball to reattach the retina to the eyewall and over time the vitreous fluid refills the eye ball.

They will also add numerous eye drops to numb your eye and shine a bright light into your eye. This is mostly to distract you from the fact that they’re going to inject a needle into your eye to further numb it for the procedure.  They’ll then lift your eyelid and either use the cryogenic scalpel or laser to correct the tear.  The gas injection usually is done with a general anesthetic so you’ll be out for the treatment.  It’s a bit unnerving to undergo any eye treatment while conscious, but take deep breaths and trust your doctor.


Treatment of a retinal tear has a 95% success rate. Untreated a retinal tear will result in retinal detachment up to 50% of the time.  The resulting blindness can be partial and permanent or total and permanent.

The bottom line 

Take note of any changes in your vision particularly as it relates to the number of floaters and any light flashes in your peripheral vision. An annual eye exam is also a good idea to stay ahead of any conditions like retinal tears or detachment.









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