Retinal Detachment - Symptoms

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What are retinal detachment symptoms and signs?

Flashing lights and floaters may be the initial symptoms of a retinal detachment or of a retinal tear that precedes the detachment itself. Anyone who is beginning to experience these symptoms should see an eye doctor (ophthalmologist) for a retinal exam. In the exam, drops are used to dilate the patient's pupils to make a more detailed exam easier. The symptoms of flashing lights and floaters may often be unassociated with a tear or detachment and can merely result from a separation of the vitreous gel from the retina. This condition is called a posterior vitreous detachment (PVD). Although a PVD occurs commonly, in the majority of cases there are no tears associated with the condition.

The flashing lights are caused by the vitreous gel pulling on the retina or a looseness of the vitreous, which allows the vitreous gel to bump against the retina. The lights are often described as resembling brief lightning streaks in the outside edges (periphery) of the eye. The floaters are caused by condensations (small solidifications) in the vitreous gel and frequently are described by patients as spots, strands, or little flies. Some patients even want to use a flyswatter to eliminate these pesky floaters. There is no safe treatment to make the floaters disappear. Floaters are usually not associated with tears of the retina.

If the patient experiences a shadow or curtain that affects any part of the vision, this can indicate that a retinal tear has progressed to a detached retina. In this situation, one should immediately consult an eye doctor since time can be critical. The goal for the ophthalmologist is to promptly make the diagnosis and treat the retinal tear or detachment before the central macular area of the retina detaches.

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See what others are saying

Comment from: MD, 35-44 Male (Patient) Published: December 22

I noticed a transparent floater for a few weeks in my right eye so I went to see an optometrist who agreed it was just a floater. I wasn't happy with his diagnosis so I went to see a retinal surgeon and had a gas vitrectomy to repair the retinal detachment, the next day. The surgeon told me nothing about the recovery process nor the risks involved except to guarantee a cataract in 2 years. Most of my eyesight has been saved but I have lost 20 percent of my peripheral vision due to the surgery. Apparently in some people the gas dehydrates the retina. I'm -8.5 and still getting worse!

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Comment from: Azdesertfoxx, 45-54 Female (Patient) Published: February 29

I woke up one morning and saw black dots floating in my vision. I went to the eye doctor who said retina looked fine. One week later I woke up with more dots. Again the eye doctor said retina looked fine. She showed me how it looked like the vitreous was pulling on it. Two weeks later a moon shaped floater appeared. I waited 5 days before going to the eye doctor and she said I had a horseshoe tear. I had an emergency surgery 2 days later. I had to get the oil due to living in higher altitude. Oil removal was 6 weeks later. There is still a little oil bubble but doctor said it should burp out when I get the ultimate cataract surgery. Let's hope so. I get new glasses in a week where I hope vision is much clearer. I have not driven since before Christmas. Other eye had detached retina in high school. The current one is due to old age (sticky vitreous).

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