Let me hopscotch over to the second question first. Should I be worried if I develop a retinal detachment (RD)? Certainly, YES! However, knowing what I know about the symptoms of RD and what you will soon learn can literally save your sight.
When someone like you or I harbor an RD, we can be absolutely symptom free if the RD is small and away from our line of sight. So in these cases, yearly comprehensive eye examination with dilation of the pupils is highly important. On the flip side, we can be so symptomatic that it would be hard not to notice. If the RD is large and just in the right spot, our vision may be so severely affected that we may only see form or even darkness. So remember these few words – FLASHES, FLOATERS, and CURTAIN – coming over your vision. What should I do if I experience one or all of the above symptoms? See your eye doctor immediately. Do not wait for the symptoms to change or get worse.
While there are other eye and health conditions that share similar symptoms, your eye doctor will certainly go through a checklist of potential warning signs, complete a detailed evaluation and reach a probable cause. The review of symptoms will likely include FLASHES, FLOATERS, and CURTAIN.
FLASHES are caused by the act of the retina being tugged on or pushed (elevated) from behind. This in turn stimulates the retina, and the sight center in our brain interprets that as a random flash of light. If at all possible, confirm which eye you are experiencing the flash and in what direction might the source of the flash be coming from.
FLOATERS indicate that pigment cells or red blood cells or both are being liberated from the retinal tissue or retinal blood vessels, respectively. In the case of a RD, you may experience a shower of floaters streaming in front of your vision. This is made worse by any sort of head movement.
CURTAIN suggests that the retina is falling off the wall of the eye. As the curtain draws over the critical areas of the retina, you may experience a drastic reduction in vision.
What is a retinal detachment? When educating my patients about retinal detachment, I often use the analogy of wallpaper falling off the wall. So my patients see the immediacy of tacking the wallpaper back on so further damage does not take place beyond repair. A RD is basically a separation of the retinal nervous tissue (wallpaper) that lines the inside wall of the eye. The separation prevents the eye centers of the brain from receiving any message from the outside world. The separation can be caused by a weakening or thinning of the retina, eye trauma, high nearsightedness, aging changes, diabetes, eye malignancies just to name a few. Whatever the cause, repair of the retina to restore your vision is the highest priority.
So remember these three important words that can simply save your sight: FLASHES, FLOATERS, and CURTAIN.
~Judy Tong, OD, FAAO
California Optometric Association