Unless you are a doctor of optometry, you may consider the eyes to be quite mysterious. We take our vision for granted and most of us have no idea what complex mechanics are involved in relaying images into our brain for processing. The many structures of the eye are small and delicate, easy to damage even without physical trauma. One of those scenarios is called a “detached retina.”

Contained within your eye is a material called Vitreous Gel. The retina, the structure responsible for transmitting the image received by the eye to your brain, is located at the back of the eye. The vitreous is attached to the retina and detached retina occurs when some factor causes the vitreous to expand or shrink, lifting or detaching the retina from its place in the eye. The normal process of aging is sometimes enough to contract the vitreous and result in detached retina, usually in only one eye.

Most people experience “floaters,” or tiny specks of debris in your eye that “float” their way across your field of vision. This is a normal phenomenon and does not typically impair your sight. A dramatic increase in floaters may indicate that the retina has detached. Other symptoms are flashes of light, shadows, or the appearance of “curtains” over your vision. Detached retina is painless, but it a serious condition that requires correction by an optometry professional.

A suddenly detached retina is a medical emergency. Most often, doctors of optometry are able to observe the early stages during a routine eye exam. Once you’ve been diagnosed, the resolution is usually cryopexy, in which freezing is used to form a scar that holds the retina in place, or surgery. A few surgical procedures are found to be very successful in reattaching a separated retina. These include laser surgery, scleral buckle in which a stretchy band is placed around the eye to stabilize the retina, a vitrectomy where the vitreous gel is replaced with a gas or oil bubble to hold the retina in place, or a similar method called pneumatic retinopexy using a combination of gas bubble and surgery.

While not painful, detached retina is no minor issue. Annual eye exams are extremely important in identifying the problem before it becomes severe. If you notice any changes in your vision or symptoms as noted above, immediately contact your Valley doctor of optometry.