Detached or Torn Retina Treatment

Detached or Torn Retina Treatment

Swedish has the expertise and resources to provide advanced treatment for all kinds of vision problems — including retinal tears and detachments.  


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To schedule a routine eye exam, or consult with a physician about surgery, contact a Swedish ophthalmologist.


About the torn retina

What is the retina?
The retina is a light-sensing membrane that lines the back of the eye. It captures and transmits images to the brain. The outlying parts of the retina are responsible for peripheral vision.

What are retinal tears and detachments?
Sometimes part of the retina either tears or pulls away (detaches) from the back of the eye. When this happens, vision loss may occur.

What causes a retinal tear or detachment?
Most retinal detachments are caused by the presence of one or more small tears or holes in the retina. These tears may be due to the thinning of the retina that comes with age, but more often they are caused by shrinkage of the vitreous — a clear, gel-like substance that fills the inside of the eye. The vitreous helps maintain the shape of the eye and allows light to pass through the retina.

Who gets retinal tears and detachments?
Retinal tears and detachments usually affect people who are middle-aged or older. These eye problems are more likely to develop in very nearsighted people and those with a family history of retinal problems. A hard, solid blow to the eye may also cause retinal detachments.

What are the symptoms of a retinal tear or detachment?
If there is a tear, you may notice floaters (specks or threads in your vision), flashes (lights, stars or streaks in your vision) or sudden blurry vision. With a retinal detachment, an area of your vision may seem shadowed. And you may also experience the same symptoms as someone with a retinal tear.

Is treatment necessary?
Yes. Prompt treatment of a torn retina can prevent the retina from detaching. Once the retina becomes detached, it must be surgically repaired to prevent vision loss.

What are the treatment options?
If the retina has a tear or hole, but has not become completely detached, your ophthalmologist may recommend a special type of laser treatment (photocoagulation) or freezing (cryopexy). If the retina is detached, surgical repair is necessary.

What's involved in laser treatment?
During this procedure, your ophthalmologist will use a laser to place small burns around the edge of the retinal tear. These burns produce scars that seal the edges of the tear and prevent fluid from passing through and collecting under the retina. Laser photocoagulation is often done as an outpatient procedure and requires no surgical incision.

What's involved in cryopexy?
During this procedure, your ophthalmologist will use an intensely cold probe to freeze the back wall of the eye behind a retinal tear. This will stimulate scar formation and seal the edges of the tear. Freezing is often done as an outpatient procedure, and local anesthesia is needed to numb the eye.

What's involved in the surgical repair of a detached retina?
The most common surgical procedures for reattaching a retina are scleral buckling, pneumatic retinopexy and vitrectomy. (Each is designed to press the wall of the eye against the retinal holes, holding both tissues together until scarring seals the tears.)

Scleral buckling – During this procedure, your ophthalmologist will wrap a silicone band around the eye and stitch it to the sclera, the outside wall of the eye. Although the band remains around the eye, it doesn't cause pain and cannot be seen.

Pneumatic retinopexy – During this procedure, your ophthalmologist injects a gas bubble into the vitreous. As the bubble rises, it presses the detached retina against the back wall of the eye to seal the retinal tear. The body usually absorbs the bubble within one to three weeks.

Vitrectomy – To release fibrous tissue that is pulling on or growing over the retina, a vitrectomy may be necessary. Using a high-powered microscope and delicate surgical instruments, your ophthalmologist will remove the vitreous gel that is pulling on the retina. The vitreous is then replaced during the operation with a saline solution or air that completely fills the eye.

How safe is surgical treatment?
Surgery is successful in preserving eyesight in more than 90 percent of patients. The benefits of surgery clearly outweigh the risks.

Will treatment fully restore vision?
If the retina is successfully reattached, the eye will retain some degree of sight and blindness will have been prevented. Approximately 40 percent of patients with successfully repaired retinal detachments achieve excellent vision within six months after surgery. The remaining 60 percent attain varying degrees of vision recovery.

Are there any complications from retinal-detachment surgery?
Complications may occur, but they are infrequent, and the vast majority are treatable. They include infection, bleeding under the retina, cataract formation, retinal-detachment recurrence and damage to nearby structures in the eye, such as the lens.

How long can I expect the surgery to last?
Laser treatment or cryopexy usually takes between 10 and 20 minutes. Surgical reattachment of the retina takes about one-and-a-half to two hours.

How much discomfort should I expect after surgery and in the days to follow?
After a tear is sealed, your eye may be slightly inflamed. If you were treated for a detachment, the eye may be sore, red and swollen. You'll be given medication to control pain and prevent infection.

What happens after treatment/surgery?
Following your surgery, you'll most likely go home after a short stay in the recovery area of the Swedish Eye Center. If you had laser surgery or cryopexy, you should be able to resume normal activities within days, but you should take care not to do anything too strenuous until your eye has healed.

If you had retinal reattachment surgery, you can expect to return to work and many other normal activities within two weeks. If your treatment included pneumatic retinopexy, avoid increases in altitude — plane rides, especially — until your doctor gives the OK.

Will I need any follow-up visits?
Your ophthalmologist will probably want to see you the day after surgery and again for regular checkups to monitor your healing.

What will be different after eye surgery?
Many of the people who have undergone eye surgery report an improved outlook on life, as well as improved vision.


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