There are quite a few retinal diseases, or retinal disorders, and you may have heard of some of them: Macular degeneration and retinal detachment, for instance. Here, we cover some basic information about common retinal diseases, along with what to look for, so you can keep your vision as healthy as possible. 

First Things First: What Exactly is the Retina? 

The retina is what senses light and sends images to your brain. It’s a layer of nerve tissue that lines the back of your eye. At its center is the macula, which is made up of millions of light-sensitive cells (remember learning about rods and cones in school?), as well as other nerve cells whose job is to receive and organize visual information. Your retina sends this visual information to your brain, via the optic nerve, and that process is what allows you to see — whether it’s reading, seeing fine detail, driving, or other visual activities. 

Common Retinal Diseases: What Are They? 

Common retinal diseases or disorders include: 

Retinal Tear

What it is: A retinal tear occurs when the vitreous (the clear, gel-like substance in the center of your eye) shrinks and pulls the retina, causing it to tear. 

Possible symptoms: Floaters and flashes of light. If you experience these symptoms, try to see an eye doctor immediately.

Potential risk factors: Advanced age, nearsightedness, family history, thin patches in the retina (called associated lattice degeneration), prior eye surgery

Treatments: Retinal tears with sudden symptoms are best treated early; otherwise they may lead to retinal detachment. They are usually treated with a laser or a freezing procedure (called cryotherapy) in your eye doctor’s office. 

Retinal Detachment

What it is: Retinal detachment means the retina becomes detached from the back wall of the eye, cutting off its blood supply so it doesn’t function properly. 

Possible symptoms: Floaters, flashes of light, a “shadow” or “curtain” in the peripheral vision that may progress toward the central vision

Potential risk factors: Advanced age, previous retinal detachment, thin patches in the peripheral retina (called lattice degeneration), extreme nearsightedness, family history, previous eye surgery, trauma

Treatments: Several treatments are available that accomplish the goal of reattaching the retina and sealing the tears or holes. These include surgeries (scleral buckle, vitrectomy, or laser) and pneumatic retinopexy (an in-office procedure). 

Diabetic Retinopathy (Also Called Diabetic Eye Disease)

What it is: This complication of diabetes causes damage to the blood vessels of the retina, and is the most common cause of irreversible blindness in working-age Americans. 

Possible symptoms: Blurred or double vision, difficulty reading, floaters or spots in the vision, a “shadow” or “curtain” across the field of vision, eye pressure or pain, difficulty seeing color 

Potential risk factors: Diabetes, particularly accompanied by high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, pregnancy

Treatments: There are many treatments, including injections into the middle cavity of the eye, laser treatments, and surgery. 

Macular Hole

What it is: This is a small defect in the macula, the tissue in the center of the retina that helps you see fine detail. A macular hole can develop from abnormal traction between the retina and the vitreous. 

Possible symptoms: A gradual decline in the central vision that you may experience as blurred vision, distorted vision, or a dark spot 

Potential risk factors: History of retinal tears or retinal detachment, diabetes, inflammation of the eye

Treatments: A surgical procedure called a vitrectomy is the most common treatment. 

Age-Related Macular Degeneration

What it is: This happens when the macula starts to deteriorate. There are actually two types: wet macular degeneration and dry macular generation. 

Possible symptoms: Symptoms aren’t usually present in the early stages, but as the disease progresses, they include distorted vision, not seeing the brightness of colors, a gradual or sudden loss of central vision, and dark, blurry areas in the center of vision. 

Potential risk factors: Age, family history, obesity, high blood pressure, poor diet, cigarette smoking

Treatments: Prescription drugs or eye drops, and nutritional supplements are used, depending on the type of macular degeneration. 

Retinitis Pigmentosa

What it is: This is a group of diseases that may be inherited and cause retinal degeneration and blindness. Vision loss occurs because the light-sensing cells of the retinal degenerate and die.

Possible symptoms: Symptoms can start in childhood and include night blindness, cataracts, and vision loss (either central or peripheral).

Potential risk factors: Family history

Treatments: There is currently no cure, but studies are underway to determine an effective treatment.

When You Should See a Doctor

If you notice changes in your vision, it’s important to see an eye doctor quickly. At Carlsson Family Eye Center, we’re here to help. We can diagnose and determine the right treatment for all retinal disorders. Annual eye health exams are the most important way to keep your eyes — and your whole self — healthy. 

Contact us for an appointment today.