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Detached Retina Symptoms: A Patient's Point of View

Updated on June 13, 2017
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My retinal detachment didn't come entirely as a surprise. I had experienced two retinal tears, and I knew a detachment was a possibility.

Surgery to repair a detached retina usually requires making the patient unconscious with anesthesia. Credit: Pixabay public domain
Surgery to repair a detached retina usually requires making the patient unconscious with anesthesia. Credit: Pixabay public domain

Detached retina symptoms can erupt literally in a flash—and with a flash.

Picture driving 70 miles an hour on the highway when suddenly the shape of a dark, gray disc pops into view in the left eye.

The disc sits in the lower corner of the eyesight and displays a jagged, flashing halo of light around it. A glance to the left moves the disc to the left as well and into the center of the eye. The disc now blocks an even larger part of the vision.

Panic is not a good option at 70 miles an hour on an interstate highway.

Someone who has experienced retinal tear symptoms and surgery may not panic. They will likely know from their doctors that a detachment can result from a tear.

That person’s best option is pulling off the highway onto an exit, stopping at a safe location and immediately calling an eye doctor, also known as an opthamologist.

If he or she does not, permanent loss of vision may result. More than 90 percent of all detached retina patients have successful surgery, but surgery does not always lead to the same level of vision as before, according to the National Eye Institute.

The eye on the right had a retina tear that led to a retina detachment. Two months later, vision has not fully returned and a cataract is forming quickly in the repaired eye.
The eye on the right had a retina tear that led to a retina detachment. Two months later, vision has not fully returned and a cataract is forming quickly in the repaired eye. | Source

Retina Tear Symptoms

Fortunately, I knew it was a detached retina before I talked to my eye doctor.

I had experienced two retinal tears in my right eye requiring laser surgery and was aware of the possibility of a detachment. Tears usually lead to detachments.

Both tears arrived at the same time in my right eye. The American Academy of Ophthalmology says that retinal tear symptoms include:

  • A sudden increase in size and number of floaters.

  • A sudden appearance of flashes.

  • A gray curtain across the field of vision (which also is a detachment symptom).

In my case, the floaters consisted of both blood spots and batches of translucent tissue. I could easily see flashes of light, especially in darkness.

The retina is a lining of tissue at the back of the eye. If the vitreous fluid inside the pulls away too abruptly, a tear will result. Wikimedia public domain
The retina is a lining of tissue at the back of the eye. If the vitreous fluid inside the pulls away too abruptly, a tear will result. Wikimedia public domain

Retina Tear Causes

Most of the causes and risk factors are well known. Various sources agree they include some combination of:

  • Aging
  • Family history
  • Nearsightedness
  • Previous eye surgery
  • Previous severe eye injury or disease

One of my doctors also said eyes with an oblong shape also may be a factor. But they were a bit baffled by the number of my problems -- ultimately, four tears and one detachment.

The aging process is a major factor in retinal tear symptoms. As we grow older, the vitreous in our eyeballs begins to change consistency and pull away from the retina. If it pulls away too abruptly, it can produce a tear.

If left untreated, fluid from the vitreous can seep into the space behind the retina and force it outward, creating a detachment and a serious potential for blindness.

I was aware of retinal tear symptoms in my right eye including floaters and flashes of light, so I sought treatment for that eye. My doctor used a laser to heal the tears.

Although I saw an increase in floaters in my left eye, I did not notice any flashes and did not think I had a tear. (I have had many floaters for many years.)

This mistake has led to a major physical and financial cost.

In one interesting moment, I regained enough consciousness that I could see a needle inside my eye.

Detached Retina Surgery

A detached retina is much more severe and can result in partial or full loss of vision. Detachments can be partial or full. Surgery is much more serious and is necessary as soon as possible after the diagnosis.

The surgery is brief and takes place in an outpatient facility. In many cases, the patient receives enough anesthesia to be unconscious during the procedure.

The type of surgery depends on the characteristics of the detachment, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

For a scleral buckle, the surgeon places a flexible band around the eye to act against the form that is pulling the retina out of its proper place.

For a pneumatic retinopexy, the doctor injects a gas bubble into the vitreous inside the eye. The bubble pushes the retinal tear against the back of the eye’s wall.

For a vitrectomy, the surgeon will drain the vitreous and replace it with a gas bubble. The body’s fluids will eventually replace the gas bubble.

I underwent the vitrectomy procedure in a surgical environment rather than the ophthalmologist’s office. I was not conscious for most of the surgery because of light anesthesia.

In one interesting moment, I regained enough consciousness that I could see a needle inside my eye. The doctor was using it to inject the gas bubble. When I pointed out that I could see the needle, an increase in anesthesia quickly put me back into unconsciousness.

Detached retina surgery may trigger the formation of a cataract, which is the clouding of the eye lens. The above photo shows a replacement lens.
Detached retina surgery may trigger the formation of a cataract, which is the clouding of the eye lens. The above photo shows a replacement lens.

Detached Retina Recovery

Recovery begins with bandages over the eye for the next one to two days. When the doctor removes the bandages, vision in the repaired eye seems like staring through a thick glass bubble. Normal vision is not possible right away.

The eye may be red and swollen for several days after the surgery. Doctors strongly recommend against any physical activity until the gas bubble goes away.

It took more than two weeks for the gas bubble in my eye to shrink until it vanished altogether. In the meantime, I couldn’t use my left eye for reading or anything else. I also had to use two types of eye drops multiple times a day to speed recovery.

“After successful surgery for retinal detachment, vision may take many months to improve and, in some cases, may never return fully. Unfortunately, some patients do not recover any vision.

"The more severe the detachment, the less vision may return. For this reason, it is very important to see your ophthalmologist regularly or at the first sign of any trouble with your vision,” the AAO says.

The gas bubble for a vitrectomy also has another important result. It is critical that the patient does not travel in high altitudes because changes in air pressure may impact the bubble and cause serious complications including blindness.

Other potential complications include:

  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Formation of a cataract
  • Recurrence of the detachment

Within weeks of the surgery, my doctor in a followup appointment found that a cataract was forming quickly and impairing my vision even more. As a result, I had to schedule cataract surgery.

Source

Detached Retina Cost

Patients with high-deductible health insurance will want to know how much detached retina surgery will cost.

Costs depend on the provider, location and other factors. In my case, the numbers broke down this way:

  • Surgery - $1,769
  • Facility fee - $1,659
  • Anesthesiologist - $604
  • Appointments - 250
  • Total - $4,282

Disclaimer: This article is based on my own personal experience of retinal tears and a detached retina. It is not meant as medical advice. If you experience unusual symptoms with your eyes, see a doctor immediately.

© 2016 Scott Bateman

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    • MizBejabbers profile image

      MizBejabbers 2 months ago

      Scott, please keep us posted on how your vision is doing. I have a question for Janice about the peripheral arcs. Are these flashes of light or could they be ocular migraines? I started having ocular migraines about 3 years ago, and have 2 or 3 a year. However, those look like my field of vision is framed with a circular bright light squiggle in each eye. They are not painful and my eye doctor says they are harmless. I'm not sure about the harmless.

    • promisem profile image
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      Scott Bateman 2 months ago

      Janice, that sounds like a simple question, but I don't quite have an easy answer. I do have flashes of light that are more like waves. I can no longer spend 8-10 hours a day on the computer doing my work because my eyes get tired quickly.

      Is it because of my detached retina and multiple tears, my age, decades of heavy computer use or all of the above finally catching up to me? I'm just not sure.

      I do know my experience has made me realize the importance of healthy eyes. I just wish there was more I could do to protect them. Thanks for asking.

    • profile image

      Janice 2 months ago

      How's your vision now Scott?

      I see eye doctor frequently because of intermittent white peripheral arcs that I see. Eye Dr told me it's common; she gets them too.

    • promisem profile image
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      Scott Bateman 2 months ago

      I'm so sorry to hear the news, MizBejabbers. I truly hope your specialist can come up with a solution.

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      MizBejabbers 2 months ago

      Thanks, Scott. Just to give an update, the retinal specialist says it wasn't a result of the medication. He says my left eye is growing new blood vessels near the macula. I asked if was wet macular degeneration, and he said he couldn't tell right now. Anyway, I'm being treated with injections to stop the growth of the blood vessels and any capillary leakage. I will be having more injections in the future. Not so good. We will see how it goes.

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      Scott Bateman 2 months ago

      MizBejabbers, I'm grateful for your comments and glad you didn't lose the sight in your right eye. My experience taught me never to take any changes in my sight for granted. Too much is at risk because sight is so precious and difficult to repair.

      I hope the problem in your left eye is temporary and just the result of the medication change. Good luck!

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      MizBejabbers 2 months ago

      That is a very frightening account, but a very good one. You wrote:

      "Picture driving 70 miles an hour on the highway when suddenly the shape of a dark gray disc pops into view in the left eye."

      Gracious, Scott, I don't have to picture it. That happened to me except it was my right eye, and on a Saturday. It was like wham! A big black spot all of a sudden covered the "plus plus" quadrant in my right eye. (using an algebra term, sorry) I drove home and called my retinal specialist, who was already treating me for a retinal hemorrhage in my left eye. He met me at his office. I was fortunate. It was diagnosed as a huge floater that didn't turn lose all the way. He said he could take it out with a laser but he didn't recommend the procedure because it would dissolve. I was partially blind in that eye for more than three years before it dissolved.

      I've had something similar happen again. This time a spot about the size of a nickle appeared in my left eye after I stopped taking a harsh medication. You've just scared me into calling for an appointment with my eye doctor. Thank you, thank you.

    • promisem profile image
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      Scott Bateman 9 months ago

      Hi, Faith. I'm glad to hear your husband's eye has healed so well. Many people have floaters, but a sudden increase in them is a major warning sign. I hope you don't have to go through the same thing as your husband. Thanks for your comments!

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 9 months ago from southern USA

      Hi Scott,

      This is a really good hub here and comprehensive, as Shyron stated.

      My husband experienced this too. It does just happen fast. He had floaters and then a gray like window shade was pulling down over his eye, and that is when one should immediately go to the doctor. He waited just a little too long to go and then went to an Eye Emergency center, and they told him he had a detached retina and they did surgery. It was two years to completely reattach and his vision was not the same. However, it did heal and then he was able to have cataract surgery and is now seeing perfect vision!

      I do have floaters too, and so I will be mindful of these other signs.

      Blessings

    • promisem profile image
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      Scott Bateman 10 months ago

      Shyron, thank you very much for your comments. I hope writing about it from a personal point of view will make people more aware of it. A detached retina is quite a scary experience because of the potential for going blind. Blessings to you as well!

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 10 months ago from Texas

      Scott, this information is very most comprehensive that I have read even in my doctor's office.

      A detached-retina is one thing that I fear. One of the Engineers that I worked for had this happen to him at work and he was going to go home, because he had no idea what was wrong. One of the other Engineers told him I am taking you to my eye surgeon. The eye surgeon took care of it right away and he regained his sight and within a week it happened to the other eye. Although he regained his sight in both eyes, I always think of him and it scares me.

      I have floaters and have had cataract surgery in both eyes and secondary cataract laser surgery in the right eye, but I still have that fear.

      I am glad your surgery turned out well.

      Blessings my friend.

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