The retina is a thin sheet of nerve tissue in the back of the eye where light rays are focused and transmitted to the brain. The vitreous is a gel-like substance that fills the eye and is connected to the retina, optic nerve and many blood vessels. Problems with the retina and vitreous including retinal tear and detachment, macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, infection and trauma can lead to vision loss and blindness. Early detection and treatment are critical in correcting problems before vision is lost and preventing further deterioration from occurring.
Retinal Tear & Detachment
The vitreous is a clear liquid that fills our eyes and gives them shape. When we are young, the vitreous has a thick, gelatinous consistency and is firmly attached to the retina. As we age, the vitreous thins and separates from the retina. Although this usually results in nothing more than a few harmless floaters, tension from the detached vitreous can sometimes tear the retina.
If liquid seeps through the tear and collects behind the retina or between its nerve layers, the retinal tear can become a retinal detachment. Retinal detachment can cause significant, permanent vision loss and requires immediate medical treatment.
There are three kinds of retinal detachment. The most common form, described above, occurs when fluid leaks into the retina; people who are nearsighted or who have had an injury or eye surgery are most susceptible. Less frequently, friction between the retina and vitreous or scar tissue pulls the retina loose, something that occurs most often in patients with diabetes. Third, disease-related swelling or bleeding under the retina can push it away from the eye wall.
Signs of retinal tear or detachment include flashes of light, a group or web of floaters, wavy or watery vision, a sense that there is a veil or curtain obstructing peripheral vision, or a sudden drop in vision quality. If you experience any of these symptoms, call your doctor immediately. Early treatment is essential to preserve your vision and is usually done through laser and cryoprobe procedures.
Flashes and Floaters
While flashes and floaters occur in most people with healthy or merely nearsighted eyes, they can be symptoms of more serious problems that occur as a result of injury or retinal and posterior vitreous detachments.
Flashes in vision are caused by pressure on the retina, the bundle of nerves in the back of the eye where images are detected and transmitted to the brain. Patients who have flashes in vision complain of seeing flashing lights or lightning streaks.
Floaters are seen when fibers move within the vitreous humor, the gelatinous substance made of water and protein fibers that fills the eye. Patients symptoms include seeing small specks or dots that against clear backgrounds. Serious vision loss can occur if the retina or vitreous detach within the eye.
Patients who are experiencing flashes and floaters should contact their doctor immediately for an examination.