Retinal Diseases

Overview
The retina is a thin layer of nerve tissue that lines the inside back of the eyeball near the optic nerve. It senses light and sends images to the brain. It comprises the cells that are responsible for visual recognition, seeing sharp images, seeing detail, and the central vision required for reading. For example, retinal degeneration can cause the outer edges of objects to appear unclear. It can also cause people to see contorted images.

Common causes of retinal diseases include:
  • Retinal degeneration, a form of retinopathy (damage of the retina), which occurs as a result of the progressive demise of the retina’s cells.
The condition is common, often occurring in adults after age 50.
  • Diabetes is a major cause of retinopathy. Often, symptoms do not become apparent until the disease progresses into the advanced stage. These symptoms may include:
    • Decreased visual acuity
    • Seeing shadows or dark spots
Diabetes patients with retinopathy will need to seek treatment for both conditions simultaneously and continuously.
  • Retinal degeneration can occur due to the eyes’ anatomy — sometimes the condition is already present at birth. For example, the retina may be too thin, become torn (known as a retinal tear), or develop holes. People with nearsightedness (myopia), especially people with severe nearsightedness, are prone to developing retinal degeneration.
  • Retinal diseases can also occur as a side effect of a medical condition, such as blood disorders (blood viscosity, which is blood that’s too thick or too thin), autoimmune diseases or infectious diseases. Retinal diseases can even be a side effect of eye surgery.
Most of the time, people only visit the eye doctor when a problem arises, such as experiencing blurred vision, or seeing shadows, spots, or light flashes — which are signs that there may be a retinal problem. Unfortunately, these signs don’t always present themselves clearly (symptoms don’t show themselves), leaving many people without the treatment they need.

Therefore, it’s important to have regular periodic eye exams, especially if you are in a high risk group for retinal diseases.

High risk groups for retinal diseases include:
  • Those with a family history of retinal diseases
  • People over 50
  • People suffering from diabetes
  • People with a -6.00 prescription or more  
  • People who have undergone eye surgery such as LASIK
Remember that symptoms do not need to be present to benefit from an examination.

The doctor will first perform a general eye exam, including the application of eye drops. Some doctors may perform additional tests, such as a fluorescein angiography, a test in which a camera takes photos of the retina to analyze the blood vessels in the eyes. This process involves a dye injected into the blood stream that enables the doctor to analyze the retinal blood vessels.

When going in for a retinal examination, patients are advised to have someone accompany them. It can be unsafe for patients to travel alone after the exam, which results in impaired vision for roughly 2-4 hours.     

Many retinal diseases are preventable through adopting certain lifestyle habits such as not smoking and keeping diabetes under control if diabetic. Generally, doctors will advise patients to maintain a healthy diet, get regular exercise, and always protect the eyes from harmful sunlight and other elements that may be detrimental to eye health.

Again, it is also important for people, especially those in the high risk groups for retinal diseases, to have periodic eye examinations, and not only see the doctor as symptoms or abnormalities arise.  

There are different treatment options available for retinal diseases, although the best option depends on each individual case. Treatment options can include intravitreal injection, laser surgery, or standard surgery. Alongside undergoing treatment, patients must do their best to maintain overall good health, especially if suffering from diabetes.

Treatment of retinal diseases is ongoing, and patients must be punctual with doctor’s appointments.    

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