One of the most anxiety producing health issues for my patients concerns the impairment, or possible loss of, their vision as they get older. These vision changes can range from not being able to read fine print without glasses or more serious conditions, like retinal detachment, that can cause permanent vision loss. Chances are you’ll never get a retinal detachment (RD), but I’d like you to know more about it so you can prevent it and/or recognize its possible symptoms.
What Is Retinal Detachment?
Your retina is a structure at the back of your eye that light reflects onto through the front lens of your eye, and helps you see. When the retina becomes detached, it’s because a tear has somehow developed in the vitreous humor – the jelly-like part of the eye. The retina then separates partially, or completely, away from the back of the eye, which is the source of blood and oxygen supply to the retina. If medical attention is not immediately sought to repair the retinal detachment, it can result in permanent loss of vision. Often times, the tear can be fixed right in your ophthalmologist’s office with a laser or by putting a gas bubble into the eye. Other times it may require inpatient surgery in a hospital.
Symptoms of Retinal Detachment
The symptoms of a retinal detachment are most always painless. Experiencing some, or all of the symptoms listed, does not necessarily mean you’ve experienced a retinal detachment. It does mean that you should get to an ophthalmologist as soon as possible to be examined. If your symptoms seem serious enough, you should go to an emergency room at a hospital if your ophthalmologist is not available. Here’s what to look for:
- Floaters. Technically called posterior vitreous detachments, “floaters” are very common in one, or both, eyes, as you get older. Many of my patients have them. They are little black spots, or dark threads, that move around in your field of vision that are a result of microscopic pieces of vitreous humor debris that gets suspended there. They often dissolve on their own after a few months. A sudden array of many floaters, however, may signal impending RD and you should see a doctor.
- Light flashes. These can be little firefly-like bleeps of light in your peripheral vision, or a more dramatic camera-flash at the side of your eye. These are caused by the vitreous humor tugging on the retina – the light processor of the eye. Like floaters, their presence doesn’t necessarily mean a retinal detachment has occurred but a sudden, dramatic appearance of light flashes needs a fast trip to your ophthalmologist to rule out RD.
- Loss of vision. Experiencing sudden darkening of your vision in one eye, like a shadow, or curtain, moving across your eye, warrants immediate ophthalmologic attention. This could mean retinal detachment. If the darkening comes on gradually over days, you may be in the process of retinal detachment. Quick treatment may prevent a full RD.
What Causes Retinal Detachment?
Ophthalmology researchers say that RD is likely caused by age-related breakdown of the vitreous humor as it tends to thicken and shrink as we get older. This puts it at greater risk from breaking away from the retina.
Some research also points to nutritional causes of vitreous humor breakdown namely dehydration, lack of antioxidants and vitamin C. The vitreous humor is mostly water and a smaller part is HA – hyaluronic acid – a type of collagen/protein building block also present in your joints. Vitamin C helps build this collagen throughout your body. Trauma, previous cataract surgery, diabetes, hypertension can all be contributing factors for developing RD.
One research study may be concerning, regarding a certain class of antibiotics, fluoroquinolones, trade name Cipro, being associated with RDs. A group of people with RD’s were studied and a significant percentage of them had undergone a course of Cipro preceding their RD. The jury is still out on this possible association, but if you’re prescribed Cipro, you may want to ask your doctor if you can switch to a different antibiotic.
Can You Prevent Retinal Detachment?
Many researchers say that RD is a function of aging, wear and tear of the eye and really nothing can be done to prevent it. To me, that’s like saying there’s nothing you can do to slow down aging or decrease your chance of illness and that’s just not true. Your eye tissues can be built up and fortified just as the other tissues of your body. I feel that increasing the integrity of your eye tissues can decrease your chance of developing RD.
- Stay well hydrated. Your eyes are mostly water. If your body is dehydrated, your eye tissues are going to suffer as well. Drink half your weight in water every day.
- Optimize nutrition. Eye-specific vitamin/mineral supplements help support vision, keep eye tissues supple, and provide critical antioxidants. Take 1 daily. Some people have also reported success with floaters by supplementing with hyaluronic acid.
- Protect your eyes. Wear sunglasses, visor and/or hat outdoors to prevent damaging oxidation from the sun and keep out flying debris that can damage the eye.
Retinal detachment, thankfully, is relatively uncommon, occurring in about 1 in 10,000 people in the United States every year. Rest assured though that almost all RD’s can be successfully treated without loss of vision. Do everything possible to support and keep your eyes healthy. Keep regular eye exams and see an ophthalmologist immediately if you experience concerning symptoms.
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.
Natural Health News
Retinal Tear and Detachment, http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/tutorials/retinaltearanddetachment/ot079103.pdf
Evaluation and Management of Suspected Retinal Detachment, http://www.aafp.org/afp/2004/0401/p1691.html