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Which Eye Emergency is Common in the Elderly?

Elderly-Man-Retinal-Detchment-650x350

While retinal detachment is painless, it’s not to be taken lightly! It’s a serious medical emergency that can threaten your vision.

Retinal detachment is more common in people who are in their 60s and 70s, with rates of about 20 in every 100,000 people, as reported by the journal Ophthalmology. To protect your vision, it’s essential to be fully familiar with the warning symptoms of retinal detachment. These signs are a powerful heads-up that you need to contact our North Edmonton, Alberta, optometrist for an emergency eye exam at Village Eye Centre.

Don’t delay – the longer you wait to treat retinal detachment, the greater your risk of losing vision permanently in that eye!

What is retinal detachment?

You’ve heard the term and you know it’s a dangerous condition, but do you know what retinal detachment is? It occurs when the retina, a thin layer of tissue at the back of your eye, pulls away from its normal position. The retina is composed of specialized nerve tissue that enables you to see. When it detaches, it is because of fluid that has gathered between the eye wall and the retina. A detached retina cannot receive the nourishment and oxygen it needs to function properly.

Why does retinal detachment happen?

First, a tear or hole must develop in the retina, which allows fluid to accumulate beneath the retina. As people age, a natural separation of the vitreous from the retina occurs (called posterior vitreous detachment – PVD). This is when retinal detachments are more common because PVD can lead to a retinal tear, which causes retinal detachment.

Is everyone at risk for retinal detachment?

This emergency eye condition can be frightening, and many of our elderly North Edmonton, Alberta, eye care patients worry about whether it will happen to them. Who is at an increased risk?

  • People over age 60
  • People at a higher risk for a retinal tear or hole
  • People with high myopia (nearsightedness)
  • Anyone who suffered a previous eye injury
  • Post-cataract surgery patients
  • People with a weak spot in the retina or a history of retinal tears
  • Family history of retinal tears or detachments

What are the warning signs of retinal detachment?

When it comes to the damage that can be caused by retinal detachment, paying attention to the following symptoms and booking an emergency eye exam with our North Edmonton, Alberta, optometrist can make the difference between saving or losing your vision! Warning signs to watch for include:

  • New floaters
  • Intermittent flashing lights
  • Seeing “cobwebs” or a shower of black dots
  • A shadow or gray curtain that slides across your field of vision
  • Gradually reduced side vision

What treatment is done for retinal detachment?

When a retinal tear leads to detachment, surgery is almost always necessary for treatment. The specific timing and type of surgery will depend on details about the detachment. Some can be repaired in-office, but most retinal detachments must be fixed in an operating room.

Types of surgeries:

  • Vitrectomy – this is the most common surgical repair for retinal detachment and must be done in an operating room. The eye surgeon removes the vitreous gel and the fluid under the retina, so the retina can lie flat against the eye wall. Laser is then used to seal the retinal tear, and a gas bubble is injected to fill the eye. You must keep your head in a particular position for a few days afterward so the gas bubble is positioned correctly.
  • Pneumatic retinopexy – a two-step operation performed in your optometrist’s office; first, a gas bubble is injected into the eye to push the detached retina back against its original position by the eyewall. Then, laser or freezing treatment is used to seal the retinal tear and prevent detachment from recurring. Once the gas is injected into the eye, you must hold your head in a specific position for a few days.
  • Scleral buckle – this surgery must be done in an operating room; a small silicone band is placed around the eye to support the detached retina externally. Then, a freezing treatment seals the retinal tears. Often, the fluid under the detached retina is drained so the retina can return to its proper position. In most patients, the scleral buckle is permanent, but cannot be seen because it is fixed in place deep behind the eyelids.

What about the future of my vision?

Nowadays, after surgery for retinal detachment, the future looks good! More than 98% of retinal detachments can be fixed. Depending on the degree of detachment, some people need additional surgery, and vision can take months or years to improve. The exact amount of vision improvement following surgery is impossible to know in advance, but the sooner you get treatment – the better your prognosis!


At Village Eye Centre, we put your family's needs first. Talk to us about how we can help you maintain healthy vision. Call us today: 587-410-5920 or book an appointment online to see one of our North Edmonton eye doctors.

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