A primary cause of retinal detachment is the formation of a hole or tear in the retina which allows fluid to pass behind the retina, elevating it from its normal position. For example, retinal holes or tears may occur from pulling forces of the vitreous, as it liquefies and contracts with age. Vitreous is the clear gel-like substance which fills the eye. Small condensations of the vitreous gel first appear as “floaters”, seen as floating webs, strands or dust-like specks in our vision. Generally, “floaters” are not a major concern, only a sign that some change in the vitreous has taken place.
However, the sudden occurrence of new floaters may be the first symptom of a retinal hole or tear which could lead to a retinal detachment. In addition, the occurrence of “flashes”, appearing as sudden flashes of light in any part of our vision, are potentially a more serious sign that the vitreous gel is pulling on a portion of the retina. This more intense pulling could result in the formation of a tear or hole in the retina at that location. The occurrence of “floaters” or “flashes” should be checked by a qualified eye care specialist as soon as possible, along with any other noticeable changes in your vision.
When a full retinal detachment has occurred a common surgical repair called a “scleral buckling procedure” is sometimes prescribed. It involves the use of a small silicone band placed around the eye to reposition the retina back in its normal location. Additionally, drainage of the fluid beneath the retina and sealing of the tear with heat, freezing or laser may be performed. As with any surgical procedure, side effects and complications may occur. If caught early, symptomatic retinal holes and tears often can be prophylactically treated with an in-office laser treatment or outpatient freezing procedure which “welds” the retinal hole/tear closed. With these advanced techniques, many retinal detachments can be prevented if caught at an early stage. This is why it is imperative to immediately report any new floaters/flashes or sudden visual changes to your Eye Care Specialist.