The retina is a vital part of the eye without which vision is impossible. A layer of nerve tissue at the back of the eye, the retina senses light and conveys images to the brain to permit sight. The macula is the central portion of the retina, providing the sharp central vision necessary for reading, driving, and perceiving fine detail. Retinal disorders affect the important tissue that makes up the retina. Not only can they be serious, they can sometimes result in blindness.
Macular degeneration or age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a leading cause of blindness in people over 60 years of age. It destroys sight by diminishing the sharpness of the central field of vision. There are two types of macular degeneration: wet and dry. The wet form of the condition is more serious and generally results in more rapid and serious loss of central vision. Learn more.
Diabetes, an illness in which blood glucose levels are too high, often damages the eyes over time. The most common problem is diabetic retinopathy, a leading cause of blindness. Early symptoms include blurred or double vision, flashing lights, pain or pressure, difficulty seeing out of the corners of the eyes. Diabetics can also develop cataracts or glaucoma. Learn more.
When the small veins of the retina develop a blockage, it is known as a retinal vein occlusion. This problem is usually caused by artherosclerosis which results in a blood clot. Vein occlusions most commonly occur in older patients and may cause other problems, including glaucoma or macular edema. The symptoms of vein occlusion may include sudden blurring or vision loss in all, or part of, the eye.
Retinal artery occlusion occurs when a small artery of the retina becomes blocked. Like a vein occlusion, it may result from a blood clot or from artherosclerosis in the eye. In some cases, such clots travel to the eye from the heart or carotid artery. Artery occlusions can also occur because of other disease conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension or hyperlipidemia. The sign of an artery occlusion is sudden blurring or loss of vision, either partial or complete. Vision changes from an artery occlusion can be temporary or permanent.
Retinal Tears & Retinal Detachment
A clear gel called vitreous fills the inside of the eye. Sometimes, during aging, this fluid pulls away from the retina. Often this is not serious, but if the vitreous tears the retina as it pulls, fluid may pass through and result in lifting the retina off the back of the eye. If this retinal detachment occurs, it is a medical emergency that can result in blindness.
The symptoms of a retinal tear or detachment are flashing lights, floaters, a shadow in peripheral vision, or the appearance of a gray curtain moving across the field of vision. While retinal tears can usually be treated in the doctor’s office, a retinal detachment typically requires surgery.
Vitreous Floaters and Flashes
Floaters, experienced by many people at some point in their lives, appear as small specks or threads drifting across the field of vision. Floaters occur when small fibers in the vitreous fluid pull loose, making shadows in the eye. Most floaters are not dangerous, though they more frequently occur in inflamed, nearsighted, or injured eyes.
Flashes of light may also result from vitreous fibers pulling loose and may occur simultaneously with floaters. Flashes, however, can be a sign of retinal detachment which can seriously damage vision. Therefore, patients experiencing flashes should always seek ophthalmological attention.