Simply put, retinal conditions are issues that affect the retina of your eye. Types of retinal conditions and diseases can vary greatly, but most impact your ability to see in noticeable ways. That’s why it's important to get such issues diagnosed and treated promptly, whenever possible.
What Is the Retina and What Does It Do?
The retina is a thin layer of tissue that lines the back of your eye. It contains light-sensitive cells that receive visual information as light and convert it to electrical signals. This data is then sent via the optical nerve to your brain, where it is recognized as images.
When there is a problem with or disease affecting your retina, it can result in long-term damage to your vision. Unlike the cornea (the transparent film covering the front of your eye), there are no pain receptors at the back of your eye, so you may not feel any pain when your retina is damaged. This is why it’s imperative you see an ophthalmologist if you experience problems with your eyesight.
Types of Retinal Conditions
Retinal damage and disease can occur due to a variety of causes. These retinal conditions may include:
- Retinal tears – when the clear gel inside our eyes shrink enough that it tugs on the retina, causing it to tear; floaters and flashing lights are common symptoms when this occurs
- Diabetic retinopathy – over time, diabetes can damage blood vessels throughout the body, including the eyes; when this happens, the vessels can leak blood, causing the retina to swell and distorts vision
- Glaucoma – fluid buildup at the front of the eye puts pressure on the optic nerve, which damages the nerve’s ability to transmit information from the retina to the brain
- Macular degeneration – when the macula at the center of the retina, where most light-sensitive cells are, becomes damaged and causes central vision impairment
- Macular hole – a hole in the macula at the center of the retina that can develop after an injury to the eye
- Retinitis pigmentosa – an inherited disease that progressively damages the retina, leading to difficulty seeing at night or a loss in your peripheral vision
- Epiretinal membrane – thin, puckered scar tissue that develops over the center area of the retina, which can disturb your ability to see
Symptoms of Retinal Conditions
The symptoms you experience will depend on the specific retinal condition affecting you. Common symptoms associated with a variety of retinal conditions include:
- Flashing lights or “seeing stars”
- Blurry or distorted vision
- Double vision
- Dimmed vision
- Visual impairment affecting one area (e.g., just your central vision or just your peripheral vision)
- Spots or empty spaces in your field of vision
- Sensitivity to light or increased glare from light
- Seeing halos around lights
- Difficulty driving, reading, or recognizing familiar faces
Diagnosis & Treatment of Retinal Conditions
For patients experiencing any of the above symptoms, an ophthalmologist will first conduct a thorough eye exam. This may include the following diagnostic tests that look for retinal damage:
This noninvasive imaging test is used to assess the condition of the retina, including any swelling, tears, holes, or the presence of an epiretinal membrane. An optical coherence tomography utilizes near-infrared light to take detailed, cross-sectional pictures of the inside of the eye.
Fundus autofluorescence is a noninvasive imaging procedure that allows your ophthalmologist to assess the health of your retina. A specialized light is used to map and measure high quantities of lipofuscin, a pigment naturally found in the retina. Larger quantities of this pigment may indicate dysfunction or damage to the retina. An FAF test is used to diagnose and monitor a variety of retinal conditions, including age-related macular degeneration.
During a fluorescein angiography, a contrast dye is injected into a vein, which then circulates throughout your body, including your eyes. A special light is used to highlight blood vessels in the retina. This can help pinpoint any blood vessel leakage occurring in the area, as is with wet macular degeneration.
Your ophthalmology may order an ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or computed tomography (CT) scan to get a clearer image of the inside of your eye. These tests can be helpful to better examine retinal injuries or the presence of tumors in the eye.
The treatment you require will depend on the type of retinal condition you have, as well as its cause.
Ophthalmologists in Broward, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach & St. Lucie
If you experience any vision problems, make sure you visit an ophthalmologist as soon as possible. You may not experience any pain with a retinal condition or disease – but, if left untreated, it can lead to irreversible vision loss. Contact the South Florida Vision Associates ophthalmology location nearest you to schedule your visit now or complete our secure online request an appointment form.