Sharp vision hinges on the health of the retina. There are numerous problems that can affect retinal health and function — many of them associated with the aging process. Due to age-related changes, the vitreous gel that fills up the eye can pull on the surface of the retina, sometimes hard enough to tear it in one or a few places.
What Causes a Retinal Tear?
The eye is filled with a jelly-like substance called the vitreous, which normally circulates without causing any problems. With age, the vitreous can contract and become stringy. It may start to tug on the retina, sometimes pulling hard enough to create one or more tears in the retina. In certain cases, vitreous fluid seeps through the tear and lifts the retina off the back wall of the eye. This is known as retinal detachment and is considered an emergency.
Though anyone can be affected, people with the following conditions or health history are at an increased risk of developing a retinal tear:
- Previous cataract surgery
- Trauma to the eye
- Family history of retinal tear or detachment
- Having retinal tear or detachment in the other eye
Retinal Tear Symptoms
Several visual problems can indicate the occurrence of a retinal tear. A sudden increase in the size and number of floaters (lines, specks, clouds or cobwebs drifting around the field of vision) or flashes (flashing lights or lightening streaks) are two common symptoms of a retinal tear. Cloudy vision or a decrease in visual acuity can indicate a retinal tear, as can seeing a shadow in one’s peripheral vision or a gray curtain that appears to move across the field of vision.
If troubling symptoms appear, it is a good idea to see an ophthalmologist for prompt evaluation. Retinal tears are diagnosed through an eye exam and simple tests. The eyes are dilated and a special magnifying lens is used to get a clear view of the back of the eye. After examination, the doctor can determine whether the problem is a retinal tear or the early stages of retinal detachment. Then, treatment options can be explored.
Retinal tear treatment involves closing the tear and sealing the retina to the posterior wall of the eye. This can be achieved non-surgically using a laser or cryotherapy technology. Each approach has its own benefits and risks. Treatment is generally performed on an outpatient basis and recovery is rapid.
During laser surgery, a laser is directed into the eye and focused on the area of the retina tear. The heat from the laser creates tiny burns around the tear, and the resulting scar tissue seals the retina to the underlying tissue.
In cryotherapy (cold therapy or cryopexy), a probe is placed on the outside surface of the eye to apply intense cold and freeze the portion of the retina surrounding the tear. Scar tissue develops, helping to seal the retinal tear.
Retinal tears should be treated immediately. If a retinal tear is left untreated, it can progress to retinal detachment. Gradually, the eye continues to lose sight and ultimately goes blind.
Contact Our Practice
Do you have a history of cataract surgery or nearsightedness? Are you experiencing troubling visual symptoms? Have you noticed a sudden increase in floater or flashes? If so, our retina specialists recommend you schedule a prompt eye exam and evaluation. Catching problems in their early stages increases the chances of successful visual recovery.