Retinal Detachment

This is a serious disorder. The retina, the light-sensitive coating of the back part of the eye, is partially or completely detached from its basement. Symptoms include a sudden loss of vision, a shower of floaters, the sensation of “soot,” “lightning flashes,” or a curtain coming up (or down) in front of the eyes. Often these symptoms may follow a sudden forceful injury, such as being struck on the eye by a fast-moving tennis ball. (These injuries are becoming more common with the increasing popularity of tennis and squash.)

When examined with the ophthalmoscope by the doctor, a tearing or displacement of the retina can often be seen. Symptoms of this nature (or a history of eye injury that could result in retinal detachment) need prompt examination by an eye specialist. Symptoms must never be passed over casually, as permanent visual loss may result.

The patient is hospitalised without delay, moving the eyes as little as possible during transport. Surgical repair is essential. With prompt attention the results 32 are good, and ophthalmologists say that with care, 90 per cent of retinal detachments can be repaired by one operation. Subsequent operations will salvage another 6 per cent. If the retina remains intact for six months, it usually means it will stay that way.

The latest treatment is “welding” the retina back into place with a laser beam. Results are often excellent. Although the central part of vision may suffer adversely when its blood supply is deprived for short periods, the remainder of the retina may regain its visual acuity to an amazing extent, even after several months’ detachment.