The retina is a thin layer of nerve cells located at the back of the eye. Photoreceptor cells in the retina convert light from the front of the eye into electrical impulses. The optic nerve sends these impulses to the brain, where the impulses are then converted into images.
The retina is made up of several key parts that enable good vision. A disease or problem in the macula, fovea, or photoreceptors can cause different types of vision loss.
Are Retinal Diseases Preventable?
While many retinal conditions aren’t preventable, there are treatments available that can help patients keep as much vision as possible. Early diagnosis and treatment can be critical to managing retinal disease. Any patient who is at risk for retina problems should have annual dilated eye examinations and follow-up with an ophthalmologist.
Some of the more common retinal diseases and conditions are described below.
What Is Age-Related Macular Degeneration?
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is an eye disease that involves the deterioration of the macula and choroid. It is the leading cause of loss of visual acuity (sharpness) in people over 50.
Although macular degeneration does not cause total blindness, it can be very debilitating. The advanced disease involves the loss of central vision, which affects the ability to read, drive, recognize faces, and do close work.
There are two types of macular degeneration:
Dry AMD (also known as non-neovascular AMD), which usually develops slowly, is the more common type. Areas of atrophy or wasting may occur in the retina.
Sometimes dry AMD progresses into wet AMD. Scientists believe that maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including eating well, exercising, and not smoking, may slow its progression.
Wet AMD (also known as neovascular AMD) is a disease in which abnormal blood vessels grow beneath the retina. They can bleed or leak, which causes swelling and damage to the macula. Symptoms can occur suddenly and cause significant damage to the vision.
How Can AMD Be Treated?
Not all cases of macular degeneration progress to serious loss of vision. Your ophthalmologist may order advanced testing to determine the best course of treatment.
Remember that timely treatment can often reduce severe vision loss. Here are the important things to know:
- Use an Amsler grid (a handheld chart showing line distortion) regularly at home to track changes. Notify your doctor of any significant changes.
- Laser treatments can benefit some patients.
- There is no proven treatment for late-stage dry AMD.
- Intravitreal injections – The injection of anti-VEGF drugs into the vitreous gel inside the eye can be a highly effective treatment for advanced wet AMD.
What is Diabetic Retinopathy?
This condition affects the blood vessels in the retina for those with diabetes. Keeping diabetic disease under control is critical to prevent severe vision loss and blindness.
Non-proliferative retinopathy (NPDR) is the early stage of the disease. Small areas of swelling occur, and the tiny blood vessels can begin to leak.
Proliferative retinopathy (PDR) is an advanced stage of retinopathy. New blood vessels grow along the surface of the retina and into the vitreous gel at the back of the eye. The fragile blood vessels often bleed and leak.
How is Proliferative Retinopathy Treated?
Ophthalmologists use procedures such as laser surgery, photocoagulation, anti-VEGF injections, and vitrectomy surgery to treat various stages of PDR.
What Is a Retinal Detachment?
Retinal detachment occurs when the retina detaches from the back of the eye. They can occur suddenly for a variety of reasons, including aging, disease, and trauma. Symptoms include:
- “Floaters” in the eye
- Flashing light sensation
- Seeing a shadow on the side of the eye
Retinal detachments are an emergency and must be evaluated and treated by an ophthalmologist as soon as possible to reduce severe vision loss! Minor detachments can often be treated with laser treatments and pneumatic retinopexy (injection of a gas bubble into the eye). Surgery may be necessary to treat more serious retinal detachments.
Have more questions about the retina? Contact Barsam Vision and Aesthetics Center in Waltham, MA to schedule an appointment!