What Are Retinal Diseases?

Diseases that affect the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye are called retinal diseases. The most common types are retinal detachment, a medical emergency in which the retina pulls away from the blood vessels that provide oxygen to it, and diabetic retinopathy, a complication of diabetes that causes damage to the light-sensitive blood vessels in the back of the eye. Both diseases can result in blindness.

Retinal detachment can be caused by trauma, diabetes, inflammatory disorders, or problems with the clear gel inside the eye called vitreous humor. It can also occur spontaneously. Diabetic retinopathy is caused by type 1 or type 2 diabetes. Warning signs include floating spots, blurred vision, dark streaks, red film, poor night vision, or vision loss.

You should be checked for retinal disease if:

  • Experience sudden appearance of shapes, clouds, cobwebs, colors that obscure your field of vision
  • Experience sudden flashes of light, blurring, or a shadow that interrupts your vision
  • Have high blood pressure
  • Have poor blood sugar levels
  • Have high cholesterol
  • Are pregnant
  • Are African American or Hispanic
  • Smoke

To determine if you have retinal disease, your doctor may use a variety of exams, including:

  • Retinal exam – use of an ophthalmoscope to examine the back of your eye for any holes, tears, or detachments.
  • Wide field retinal imaging – use of a camera to see the back of the eye for tears in the vitreous humor
  • Dilated eye exam – using eye drops to dilate the eyes so your doctor can better see abnormalities with blood vessels or the optic nerve; swelling, blood, or fatty deposits in the retina; scar tissue; bleeding; or retinal detachment
  • Fluorescein angiography – use of a camera and special dye circulating through your eyes to identify blood vessels that are closed, broken, or leaking
  • Optical coherence tomography – a noninvasive imaging test that shows the thickness of the retina, which determines whether fluid has leaked into retinal tissue

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