Even though we make it a priority to put our patients at ease, the term ‘retinal tear’ can still cause some patients to panic. It certainly sounds like a serious, scary condition! Most ophthalmologists will agree that right after a retinal tear diagnosis, many patients tend to think the worst. This shouldn’t be the case, and we’re here to tell you why.
While it is a serious condition that requires immediate treatment, retinal tears are often not as bad as patients think they are. With the right specialist, treatment options can be extremely effective in restoring your retina to a much healthier condition.
However, the earlier retinal tears are identified, the better! That’s why we’ve listed some things to keep in mind if you’ve been diagnosed with, or you suspect that you have a retinal tear.
What is a retinal tear and are they common?
First things first, what exactly is a retinal tear? As the name suggests, a retinal tear is the name given to a tear or hole that occurs in your eye’s retina. The retina is a thin, light-sensitive layer of tissue lining the back of your eye. Because it is so thin, it is unfortunately susceptible to damage.
Especially as we age, the retina can become less resilient and changes in texture are likely to occur. Because the retina is located near the optic nerve, issues relating to the retina can significantly impact your vision.
As far as retinal conditions go, retinal tears are one of the more common ones. Therefore, it’s highly likely that your ophthalmologist will have treated retinal tears several times before. As each patient is different, a full assessment of your specific condition will be carried out before treatment options are presented — but expect for your ophthalmologist to not appear phased by your diagnosis.
What causes a retinal tear and are there any risk factors?
Even though some retinal tears can be caused by trauma to the eye area, in most cases, they are caused by posterior vitreous detachment (PVD). The vitreous is a clear gel-like substance present in the back of the eye cavity and the retina is what lines this substance.
While this gel is usually firmly attached to the retina, as we age, the gel can separate.
In some cases, PVD can be particularly harsh on the retina and cause damage such as tears and macular holes. It can be difficult to notice this separation occurring because it is usually painless; however, ophthalmologists will automatically look out for the condition during eye exams (particularly in older patients!).
In addition to age, other risk factors associated with retinal tears include:
- Severe nearsightedness
- Pre-existing thinning of the retina called lattice degeneration
- Prior eye surgery
- Trauma to the eye or eye area
- Previous Retinal Tear in the other eye
What are the symptoms of a retinal tear?
As with most eye conditions, regular appointments with an ophthalmologist are the best way to spot a retinal tear. Early detection with most retinal conditions is important due to the likelihood of the condition worsening.
If you haven’t managed to see an ophthalmologist in time, here are some symptoms to look out for (then book in with your ophthalmologist as soon as possible!):
- A sudden appearance of black spots or floaters in your vision
- Flashes of light (photopsia)
- Blurred vision
- Loss of peripheral vision
- Dimming of vision
Complications such as vitreous hemorrhage (bleeding in the clear cavity of the eye) or retinal detachment can cause additional symptoms. Your ophthalmologist will be able to offer more information on this after assessing the severity of your condition.
How can ophthalmologists treat retinal tears?
As previously mentioned, early detection of retinal tears is essential for ensuring that the widest range of treatment options are available to you. Luckily, the right retina specialist will be able to diagnose and treat most degrees of retinal tears.
Because an ophthalmologist is trained and qualified to practice both medicine and surgery, their range of treatment options for retinal tears will be the most broad.
Most commonly, retinal tears will be treated either through laser surgery or freezing (cryopexy). We’ll explain these treatments in a little more depth for you below:
Laser surgery for retinal tears:
Laser treatment for a retinal tear involves a beam being directed into your eye. This laser energy is absorbed by the retina and creates tiny burns that scar the retinal layers together. This process creates a ‘welding’ effect that helps seal the affected areas of the retina and prevents fluid from entering.
While this procedure might sound severe, the process is usually painless and can be carried out efficiently by an experienced specialist. Even though patients might be able to feel some sensation from the laser, most patients report that the procedure causes little or no pain.
Recovery from laser eye surgery is generally a straightforward process, though healing will take approximately 1-2 weeks. An eye patch may be required but most patients will begin to see immediate results once the healing process has been completed.
Cryopexy sounds complicated, but most ophthalmologists are well-versed in the procedure. Cryopexy involves using a probe to freeze the retina tissue in your eye. This process causes inflammation and eventual scarring that helps seal the retinal tear.
While some patients might experience mild discomfort during this procedure, it is not common for patients to report intense pain during cryopexy. Qualified and experienced ophthalmologists will usually discuss numbing options before the procedure, so there’s no need to worry!
Similar to laser treatment, results from cryopexy usually appear once the retina has healed. You might also be required to wear an eye patch.
Do I need to panic if I’m diagnosed with a retinal tear?
The short answer to this question is no, absolutely not! Most ophthalmologists train for an average of twelve years to offer you the best care possible. If you experience a retinal tear and are worried about the condition, any good ophthalmologist will be able to put you at ease immediately!
The best way to ensure that retinal tears or other eye conditions don’t significantly impact your quality of life is to schedule regular visits with an ophthalmologist. Even if you’re not experiencing symptoms, regular eye checks are an important part of maintaining your overall health.
You can contact us directly if you’d like to schedule a consultation with one of our retina specialists. There are several reasons to visit an ophthalmologist, but the most important one is to ensure early detection of conditions that shouldn’t alter how you live.