Retinal detachment - A curtain coming down on your vision

Have you ever heard of a condition called retinal detachment?

We hope so, but if you're like most people you probably haven't. Even if you have heard of it, do you know what the symptoms are? Most people don't know but much like a heart attack, retinal detachments are considered medical emergencies and require immediate treatment to prevent permanent vision loss so let's make sure you know what to watch for!

"... a retinal detachment happens when a part of the retina pulls away from the underlying tissue. It can happen to anyone"

Let's start by understanding what a retinal detachment really is. Essentially, a retinal detachment happens when a part of the retina pulls away from the underlying tissue. Fairly quickly, that tissue dies since it is unable to get the oxygen and other nutrients it needs to survive. If left untreated it will usually spread and the entire retina will detach. Since we need our retina to see, if it fully detaches we lose the ability to see with that eye and unfortunately can't get it back. Caught early, it can be treated and stop the vision loss in its tracks

Who is at risk for a retinal detachment? Unfortunately, everyone. Some people have a higher risk, such as people with high nearsighted prescriptions or people with a family history of retinal detachment, but anyone with eyes can have their retina detach. Your retina may detach after an eye injury or accident but that's not required for a retinal detachment to occur.

This is what a detached retina looks like when your doctor looks inside your eye. It's not something we want to see!

So how do you catch and stop a retinal detachment? Well, the main thing is to have regular, dilated eye examinations. That helps your doctor of optometry check your peripheral retina for any problems like thin areas or retinal holes. Sometimes though your retina will look perfect and you still end up with a retinal detachment! So what then?

"Retinal detachments cause flashing lights, floating spots, curtains waving in your vision or a combination of all three!"

Most retinal detachments are highly symptomatic. People experience flashing lights, floating spots, a curtain waving in their vision or a combination of all three! There are many eye disorders that have similar symptoms including things that are relatively harmless like posterior vitreous detachment and ocular migraines but because a retinal detachment is so serious (meaning you can go totally blind)  it's important to have your doctor confirm the diagnosis. Don't try to make that judgment yourself. It's not worth the risk

If you have questions about retinal detachments or anything else feel free to contact us on TwitterFacebookGoogle +, via our website or phone us at (403) 474-6744.

My eye doctor can detect which disease? - High blood pressure

There is a lot of confusion about what optometrists really do. We are so stereotypically associated with asking people "Which is better, 1 or 2?" and correcting vision problems that people are sometimes surprised to hear that we do a lot more! To help with the confusion I decided to start this new blog series "My eye doctor can detect which disease?". Some might surprise you, some might not. In today's blog I want to go over one that you might not expect: High blood pressure.

High blood pressure is extremely common. Approximately 20% of adults have high blood pressure with another 20% having high normal blood pressure (which puts them at higher risk of developing high blood pressure later on). Of these people another 20% are unaware that they have high blood pressure at all! This is important because as you may have heard high blood pressure is a silent killer. It has no symptoms so people are often not aware there is a problem until something serious happens like a heart attack or a stroke.

So how can your optometrist help? When we look inside of your eyes during a routine eye exam we aren't just looking for things like cataracts, macular degeneration and glaucoma. We're also looking for signs of systemic (or full body) problems like high blood pressure. The eyes are the only place in the body where we can directly look at your blood vessels without having to cut you open. This means that we can look and see exactly what is happening. In high blood pressure there a few key things that we are looking for.

In this picture you can see the silvering of some blood vessels and also see how some blood vessels are 'nicking' or pinching the ones underneath. This is typically what I see in the average person with uncontrolled, untreated high blood pressure.

  • Silvering of blood vessels - normally your blood vessels are a nice red colour but when someone has high blood pressure the blood vessel walls thicken. Over time this means that the blood vessels reflect more light and look more silver.
  • Wavy blood vessels - normal blood vessels in the eye follow a nice smooth path. If blood vessels are really curvy that can be an indication of high blood pressure.
  • Pressure on the blood vessels - as high blood pressure worsens the blood vessels may actually start to push down on other blood vessels restricting how much blood flows either in or out of your eye.
  • Bleeds - As those blood vessels crush each other blood can back up and eventually burst the blood vessel causing bleeds in your eye. You can also end up with white areas on your retina that aren't getting enough blood. Imagine it like squeezing a hose: no water comes out one end and water starts backing up on the other side of the blockage.
  • So much more - we can have things like leaking from blood vessels, swelling of the optic nerve and other signs.

This is high blood pressure gone seriously wrong. Uncontrolled high (very high) blood pressure over long periods of time can lead to a very unhealthy retina.

As you can see, there's no shortage of things that can go wrong in the eye with uncontrolled high blood pressure. Some of the more severe problems (Bleeding, leakage, swollen optic nerve etc) are fairly rare and only occur in very extreme untreated cases of high blood pressure. What I frequently see in my clinic are some of the early signs (the silvering, wavy blood vessels or pressure on blood vessels) and that let's me have a conversation about high blood pressure with you. In some cases your family doctor may already be aware and is either monitoring or already treating the issue. Sometimes though people have no idea and are shocked that they have high blood pressure and that it was found during a routine eye exam! It's important to keep blood pressure controlled to reduce your risk of so many very severe problems and early intervention and treatment is always better than trying to recover from something like a heart attack or stroke.

If you have any concerns that you might have high blood pressure I would urge you to book an appointment with your family doctor. While optometrists can detect high blood pressure it isn't our area of expertise to treat and manage high blood pressure effectively. If we detect it in office we always will send you back to your family doctor to both confirm the diagnosis and if needed start treatment. What's most important is remembering to have regular health checks with both your family doctor and your local doctor of optometry!

If you have any questions about this or anything else feel free to contact us on TwitterFacebookGoogle +, via our website or phone us at (403) 474-6744.