You probably don’t spend much time thinking about your retina, but it’s one of the most important parts of your eye, responsible for converting light into signals that the brain can understand and interpret as visual images, fine detail and colour.
If the retina becomes damaged or diseased, it is no longer capable of sending those clear signals to the brain. This can lead to visual impairment or loss of vison.
There are many conditions and diseases which can affect the retina, but most can be treated if they are detected early.
Retinal Tears and Detachment
The eye is filled by a clear gel in its centre, known as the vitreous gel. When the gel shrinks, as it does with age, myopia and with trauma, it pulls on the thin layer of retinal tissue at the back of the eye. If there is sufficient traction, it will cause a tear in the retina. This is usually associated with a sudden onset of symptoms, including flashing lights and floaters. This is known as a posterior vitreous detachment or PVD and may lead to a full detachment
When fluid finds its way through the tear or retinal hole and seeps under the retina, this causes a retinal detachment. In a retinal detachment the retina separates and lift away from the underlying tissue. If unstopped by laser or surgery, this can seriously affect the vision, especially if the delicate part of the retina called the macula is lifted off.
Sharp eye trauma from an accident, assault, or sharp object can penetrate the retina and cause retinal detachment with bleeding into the eye. Blunt force can dislodge the vitreous gel and increase the risk of retinal detachment and cause vision problems. Urgent treatment options include laser treatment, freezing techniques or vitreo-retinal surgery.
Age as a Risk Factors for Retinal Disease
Aging is a major risk factor for age related macular degeneration. Age related macular degeneration affects the central vision. Dry macular degeneration is increasingly common. Wet macular degeneration is the treatable form of age-related macular degeneration with eye injections.
Smoking, Hypertension, Diabetes and being Overweight are Risk Factors for Retinal Disease
Retinal problems are more common in smokers, people with high blood pressure and in obese people. Having diabetes and hypertension increases the risk of retinal venous occlusion, retinal arterial occlusion, macular oedema and a type of retinal detachment called tractional retinal detachment. All of these affect vision and require medical treatment, laser or vitreo-retinal surgery.
Hereditary Retinal Diseases
Many retinal diseases are hereditary, so if you have family who have had retinal problems, you may be more at risk. These include Retinitis Pigmentosa and Stargardt Disease, both of which can affect vision in young adults.
Diabetes and the Retina
People who have diabetes often have high blood pressure and unstable blood glucose levels. Both combine to cause damage to the blood vessels, which are critical within the eye to supply blood to the retina, and result in retinal ischaemia. If the retina does not get the blood supply it needs, it cannot perform properly, and this can lead to a condition called diabetic retinopathy.
The macula is often affected in diabetic retinopathy. In macula oedema the centre of the retina begins to deteriorate and the layers swell, causing blurred vision, distortion or a blind area in the middle of the visual field.
Sun Damage and the Retina
Staring directly at the sun during a solar eclipse can cause a retinal solar burn, called Solar Retinopathy, where there can be permanent damage of a small part of the retina at the macula. It causes loss of central vision, distorted vision and loss colour vision. Wear sun protection during solar eclipses!
How to Keep Your Retinas Healthy
Living a healthy lifestyle is the best thing you can do to keep your retinas in good shape. This means drinking plenty of water, having a balanced and healthy diet and avoiding junk food and too much alcohol, in order to prevent hypertension, diabetes and increased risk age related macular degeneration. Giving up smoking is a must, along with ensuring that you get enough exercise.
More specifically to your eyes, you should wear sunglasses when out in the sun to protect your eyes from sun damage, and you should use eye protection when doing any risky activities.
It’s also crucial to have your eyes checked on a regular basis. At Clinica London we have an expert team of retinal specialists including Ms Evgenia Anikina, Mr Julian Robins, Professor Michel Michaelides and Mr Jaheed Khan. Each of them will be delighted to see you for a check-up, and offer advice and treatment for any problems you may be having. We look forward to seeing you soon.