The retina is the light-sensitive tissue that lines the inner back portion of the eye. It is responsible for gathering incoming light and sending images to the brain so they can be processed.
Retinal tears occur when the delicate tissue gets pulled, creating a hole or tear in the retina. They need to be taken seriously because they can lead to a more severe condition called retinal detachment, which is considered a sight-threatening medical emergency.
What are the Symptoms of Retinal Tears?
Patients with retinal tears will often experience one or more of the following symptoms:
- Flashes of light
- Sudden onset or increase of floaters
- Seeing a shadow in your side vision
- Blurred vision
- Seeing a gray curtain moving across your visual field
However, in some cases, retinal tears may not produce any noticeable symptoms.
What Conditions Can Cause Retinal Tears?
The eye is filled with a substance called vitreous. At birth, the vitreous is attached to the retina and has a gel consistency. As we age, the vitreous becomes more like a liquid and slowly detaches from the retina in a process called posterior vitreous detachment (PVD).
Usually, this process occurs without any complications. If the vitreous detaches too suddenly or abnormally, it tugs on the retina and can tear it. Additionally, some people have a more “sticky” vitreous, which makes it easier for the retina to rip.
Another main cause of retinal tears is eye trauma. Blunt force eye trauma can cause the retina to become bruised or scarred, making it more vulnerable to tearing.
Other associated causes or risk factors of retinal tears include:
- Personal or family history of retinal tears/detachment
- Retinal degeneration
- Inflammatory disorders
- Certain cancers
- Autoimmune diseases
- High myopia
- Sickle cell disease
- Retinopathy of prematurity
- Prior surgery within the eye
Be sure to disclose any relevant medical information to your eye doctor for optimal preventative eye care.
How are Retinal Tears Treated?
Retinal tears are typically treated surgically with a laser (photocoagulation) or cryotherapy. Both methods are considered very safe and effective.
These treatments reseal the retina to the back wall of the eye and prevent fluid leakage underneath the retina.
The prognosis of a retinal tear is very positive when caught early, making regular eye exams that include examination of the retina crucial for all adults.
In some cases of minor retinal tearing, no treatment is required. If the retinal tear causes no symptoms, close monitoring may be all that's needed.
After Your Retinal Tear Has Been Treated
After treatment, your optometrist will schedule various eye exams in order to monitor any changes in your retinas or eye health. Inform your eye doctor immediately if you notice any changes in your vision or if you experience new symptoms that may signal a problem.
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with a retinal tear or is at risk of developing one, call to schedule a consultation.
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