A torn retina is a serious sight-threatening problem that needs urgent eye review and treatment. It can cause symptoms like seeing new black dots, moving cobwebs or “floaters” across your vision, or seeing flashes of light. Without prompt treatment, a torn retina often leads to a retinal detachment, where the retina is lifted away from the back of the eye.
Image from American Academy of Ophthalmology: Cataract Surgery
As we get older, the vitreous jelly that fills the middle of our eyes starts to shrink and lose its protective firmness that supports the retina. The retina is a delicate layer of nerve cells critical for our eye sight that lines the back wall inside the eye. As the vitreous jelly degenerates and shrinks, it usually separates away from the retina that it used to support. Sometimes, the vitreous may stick to the retina and pull hard enough away from it to tear it. When that happens, fluid (liquified vitreous) can pas through the tear and lift (detach) the retina leading to vision loss.
People are at most risk of a torn retina as they get older, usually around the ages of 40-50 years of age when their vitreous jelly undergoes age-related degenerative changes. However, the age at when this occurs is highly variable and retinal tear can occur at much younger and older age groups. Some of the individual factors that can put you at higher risk of having a torn retina include:
A torn retina has to be urgently checked and treated by an ophthalmologist right away. Otherwise your retina could detach and you could lose vision in that eye. Call an ophthalmologist immediately if you have any of the following symptoms:
Your ophthalmologist will put drops in your eye to dilate (widen) the pupil. He will then look into the back of your eye through special lenses to examine all the areas of your retina. Standard imaging or retinal scans can easily miss a peripheral retina tear or hole. Only a thorough and detailed dilated retinal examination by an experienced retinal specialist can detect small or very peripheral retinal tears or holes.
Clinical photo: Optos wide-field fundus imaging showing successful laser treatment of a peripheral retinal tear (at 6 o’clock position). The yellow dots correspond to the laser treatment sealing the tear (upside down “V-shaped” break).
Retinal tears or holes are usually treated on an urgent basis, on the same day as the diagnosis. Retinal laser is used to seal the torn retina and this can be done safely and comfortably in the eye clinic. The goal of the laser treatment is to permanently seal the retinal break and thereby prevent it enlarging or from fluid going through the tear and detaching the retina. This can protect your eye sight and also prevent the need for eye surgery. However, if a torn retina has unfortunately progressed to a detached retina, our retinal surgeons can also provide urgent retinal surgery to re-attach the detached retina.