Man getting an eye test for retinal diseases

February 12, 2016

Common Retinal Diseases

Your retina is the tissue lining the back of the eye that's responsible for vision. Some refer to its function as similar to the film in a camera as the retina is the receiver of our images.

To examine the retina, your doctor will use dilation drops to widen your eyes. A special magnifying lens is then used to view and evaluate the health of the retina. Many retinal diseases share common symptoms, but each has unique characteristics.

Macular Degeneration

Central vision is needed for seeing objects clearly and for common daily tasks such as reading, driving, identifying faces and watching television. Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is a disease associated with aging that gradually destroys your sharp, central vision.

The disease attacks the macula, the central area of the retina that allows a person to see fine detail. Individuals can lose all but the outermost peripheral vision, leaving dim images or black holes at the center of vision.

The cause of AMD is not completely known, but the greatest risk factor is age. Other increased risk factors include family history of AMD, smoking, diet, weight and race.

Some of the most common symptoms of AMD are blurred vision, a dark area or -blind spot-┬Łor a distorted appearance of straight lines or other objects. It is critical for people with AMD to monitor their vision closely and call their eye doctor if they notice any change in vision.

Diabetic Eye Disease

Diabetes can cause damage to the blood vessels in the eye leading to diabetic eye disease (diabetic retinopathy). The presence and severity of diabetic retinopathy is related to the duration of diabetes. Everyone who has diabetes is at risk for developing diabetic retinopathy.

 The severity of diabetic retinopathy can be limited or even prevented by close monitoring of blood sugars, blood pressures and blood lipids, such as cholesterol. Control of any one of these risk factors can reduce the severity of diabetic retinopathy. The possibility of early detection is why it is so important for diabetics to have a dilated eye exam every year.

Symptoms of diabetic retinopathy can include floaters (little "cobwebs" or specks that float about in your field of vision), blurred vision or double vision. Sometimes difficulty reading or doing close work can indicate that fluid is collecting in the macula, the light-sensitive part of the retina. This fluid buildup is called macular edema.

Diabetic retinopathy can be treated with laser photocoagulation to seal off leaking blood vessels and destroy new growth. Laser photocoagulation doesn't cause pain, because the retina does not contain nerve endings. Diabetic retinopathy may also be treated with intravitreal injections which deliver medicines inside the eye, near the retina.

Retinal Detachment

Sometimes, new blood vessel growth can occur over the retina. The new blood vessels can cause scar tissue to develop, which can pull the retina away from the back of the eye. This is known as retinal detachment, and it can lead to blindness if untreated.

Common symptoms include a sudden or gradual increase in either the number of floaters and/or light flashes in the eye. Another common symptom is the appearance of a curtain over your field of vision.

Treatments can include a laser surgery called cryopexy, scleral buckling surgery or vitrectomy, where the vitreous gel from the middle of the eye is removed. Visual results are best if the retinal detachment is repaired before the macula, or center region of the retina, detaches. That is why it is important to contact an eye care professional immediately if you see a sudden or gradual increase in the number of floaters and/or light flashes, or a dark curtain over the field of vision.

Contact Wolfe Eye Clinic to ask any retina disease-related questions or to schedule an appointment with one of our fellowship-trained retina specialists: Dr. Kyle Alliman, Dr. Paul Boeke, Dr. Alex Kartvelishvili, Dr. Jared Nielsen or Dr. David Saggau.