If you have a problem that involves the RETINA or VITREOUS, you may be referred to one of our ophthalmologists who specializes in diagnosing and treating retinal disorders. Drs. Eric Thomas, Ryan Geraets, and Elizabeth Atchison are Ophthalmology LTD's retinal subspecialists.
What is the retina?
The retina is a very thin layer of tissue that lines the inner part of the back of the eye and functions like the film of a camera. The retina captures light that has traveled through the lens of the eye, then transmits that image to the brain so that it can be processed into a visual image.
The retina doctors at Ophthalmology LTD have had special training in treating retinal conditions and diseases. They take great care in diagnosing and treating problems and diseases of the retina, including macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and retinal detachment.
What is a retinal specialist?
A retinal specialist (sometimes called a "vitreo-retinal" specialist) is a board-certified ophthalmologist with additional sub-specialty training and an advanced level of competence in the diagnosis and medical-surgical management of disorders that affect the eye's retina, macula, and vitreous.
Drs. Geraets, Thomas, and Atchison are fellowship-trained and have extensive experience in treating retinal problems.
What does "fellowship-trained" mean?
It takes at least 14 years of education and training to become a vitroretinal specialist.
To become eye surgeons, Dr. Geraets, Dr. Thomas, and Dr. Atchison completed four years of college, four years of medical school, one year of internship, and three years of residency training in ophthalmology. They then completed two years of highly-specialized fellowship training in their vitreoretinal subspecialty.
Those years of training and experience add up to the expertise you need on your side when a retinal problem threatens your vision.
What happens during a retinal examination?
It is our privilege and commitment to serve you with the highest quality eye care in the region. The eye surgeons at Ophthalmology LTD strive to stay on the forefront of treatment and related technology.
As you visit our retinal specialists, you will note that often times there can be numerous elements to your exam. Please familiarize yourself with the following to ensure that you have a comfortable and informed exam:
- You need to plan to be dilated for every exam. Retinal specialists treat the retina, which is located at the back of your eye. Dilating the pupils of your eye is the only way the physician can assess the health of your retina effectively.
- It is very common to have lab testing that accompanies your visit to the retinal specialists. There are a number of tests that help the physician diagnose, treat and monitor various retinal problems.
- A typical exam is 1 to 2 hours or more due to the extensive nature of retinal testing and each patient's unique situation. Please plan ahead of time to have assistance with driving to and from the clinic. Driving with dilated pupils is not advisable.
- Due to the length of the average retinal appointment, we recommend that diabetic patients come prepared with a snack or drink to help regulate your blood sugar.
The doctor may prescribe medication, laser surgery, or another surgical procedure. Most of these procedures can be performed on an outpatient basis in our Sioux Falls office's state-of-the-art surgery center. Your doctor will discuss the recommended treatment with you and answer your questions.
What are some retinal eye disorders?
What is diabetic retinopathy?
Diabetic retinopathy is the most common diabetic eye disease and a leading cause of blindness in American adults. It is caused by changes in the blood vessels of the retina. In some people with diabetic retinopathy, blood vessels may swell and leak fluid. In other people, abnormal new blood vessels grow on the surface of the retina. The retina is the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. A healthy retina is necessary for good vision. If you have diabetic retinopathy, at first you may not notice changes to your vision. But over time, diabetic retinopathy can get worse and cause vision loss. Diabetic retinopathy usually affects both eyes.
What are the stages of diabetic retinopathy?
Diabetic retinopathy has four stages:
- Mild Nonproliferative Retinopathy: At this earliest stage, microaneurysms occur. They are small areas of balloon-like swelling in the retina's tiny blood vessels.
- Moderate Nonproliferative Retinopathy: As the disease progresses, some blood vessels that nourish the retina are blocked.
- Severe Nonproliferative Retinopathy: Many more blood vessels are blocked, depriving several areas of the retina with their blood supply. These areas of the retina send signals to the body to grow new blood vessels for nourishment.
- Proliferative Retinopathy: At this advanced stage, the signals sent by the retina for nourishment trigger the growth of new blood vessels. This condition is called proliferative retinopathy. These new blood vessels are abnormal and fragile. They grow along the retina and along the surface of the clear, vitreous gel that fills the inside of the eye. By themselves, these blood vessels do not cause symptoms or vision loss. However, they have thin, fragile walls. If they leak blood, severe vision loss and even blindness can result.
Does diabetic retinopathy have any symptoms?
Often there are no symptoms in the early stages of the disease, nor is there any pain. Don't wait for symptoms. Be sure to have a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year. Blurred vision may occur when the macula—the part of the retina that provides sharp central vision—swells from leaking fluid. This condition is called macular edema. If new blood vessels grow on the surface of the retina, they can bleed into the eye and block vision.
How is diabetic retinopathy treated?
During the first three stages of diabetic retinopathy, no treatment is needed, unless you have macular edema. To prevent progression of diabetic retinopathy, people with diabetes should control their levels of blood sugar, blood pressure, and blood cholesterol.
Proliferative retinopathy is treated with laser surgery. This procedure is called scatter laser treatment. Scatter laser treatment helps to shrink the abnormal blood vessels. Your doctor places 1,000 to 2,000 laser burns in the areas of the retina away from the macula, causing the abnormal blood vessels to shrink. Because a high number of laser burns are necessary, two or more sessions usually are required to complete treatment. Although you may notice some loss of your side vision, scatter laser treatment can save the rest of your sight. Scatter laser treatment may slightly reduce your color vision and night vision.
Scatter laser treatment works better before the fragile, new blood vessels have started to bleed. That is why it is important to have regular, comprehensive dilated eye exams. Even if bleeding has started, scatter laser treatment may still be possible, depending on the amount of bleeding.
If the bleeding is severe, you may need a surgical procedure called a vitrectomy. During a vitrectomy, blood is removed from the center of your eye.
What is age-related macular degeneration?
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a disease associated with aging that gradually destroys sharp, central vision. Central vision is needed for seeing objects clearly and for common daily tasks such as reading and driving.
AMD affects the macula, the part of the eye that allows you to see fine detail. AMD causes no pain.
In some cases, AMD advances so slowly that people notice little change in their vision. In others, the disease progresses faster and may lead to a loss of vision in both eyes. AMD is a leading cause of vision loss in Americans 60 years of age and older. AMD occurs in two forms: wet and dry.
Where is the macula?
The macula is located in the center of the retina, the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. The retina instantly converts light, or an image, into electrical impulses. The retina then sends these impulses, or nerve signals, to the brain.
What is wet AMD?
Wet AMD occurs when abnormal blood vessels behind the retina start to grow under the macula. These new blood vessels tend to be very fragile and often leak blood and fluid. The blood and fluid raise the macula from its normal place at the back of the eye. Damage to the macula occurs rapidly.
With wet AMD, loss of central vision can occur quickly. Wet AMD is also known as advanced AMD. It does not have stages like dry AMD.
An early symptom of wet AMD is that straight lines appear wavy. If you notice this condition or other changes to your vision, contact your eye care professional at once. You need a comprehensive dilated eye exam.
What is dry AMD?
Dry AMD occurs when the light-sensitive cells in the macula slowly break down, gradually blurring central vision in the affected eye. As dry AMD gets worse, you may see a blurred spot in the center of your vision. Over time, as less of the macula functions, central vision is gradually lost in the affected eye.
The most common symptom of dry AMD is slightly blurred vision. You may have difficulty recognizing faces. You may need more light for reading and other tasks. Dry AMD generally affects both eyes, but vision can be lost in one eye while the other eye seems unaffected.
One of the most common early signs of dry AMD is drusen.
(National Eye Institute)
What are floaters?
Floaters are little "cobwebs" or specks that float about in your field of vision. They are small, dark, shadowy shapes that can look like spots, thread-like strands, or squiggly lines. They move as your eyes move and seem to dart away when you try to look at them directly. They do not follow your eye movements precisely, and usually drift when your eyes stop moving.
In most cases, floaters are part of the natural aging process and simply an annoyance. They can be distracting at first, but eventually tend to "settle" at the bottom of the eye, becoming less bothersome. They usually settle below the line of sight and do not go away completely. Most people have floaters and learn to ignore them; they are usually not noticed until they become numerous or more prominent. Floaters can become apparent when looking at something bright, such as white paper or a blue sky.
Floaters occur when the vitreous, a gel-like substance that fills about 80 percent of the eye and helps it maintain a round shape, slowly shrinks. As the vitreous shrinks, it becomes somewhat stringy, and the strands can cast tiny shadows on the retina. These are floaters.
Floaters are more likely to develop as we age and are more common in people who are very nearsighted, have diabetes, or who have had a cataract operation. There are other, more serious causes of floaters, including infection, inflammation (uveitis), hemorrhaging, retinal tears, and injury to the eye.
Sometimes a section of the vitreous pulls the fine fibers away from the retina all at once, rather than gradually, causing many new floaters to appear suddenly. This is called a vitreous detachment, which in most cases is not sight-threatening and requires no treatment. However, a sudden increase in floaters, possibly accompanied by light flashes or peripheral (side) vision loss, could indicate a retina detachment. A retinal detachment occurs when any part of the retina, the eye's light-sensitive tissue, is lifted or pulled from its normal position at the back wall of the eye. A retinal detachment is a serious condition and should always be considered an emergency. If left untreated, it can lead to permanent visual impairment within two or three days or even blindness in the eye. Those who experience a sudden increase in floaters, flashes of light in peripheral vision, or a loss of peripheral vision should have an eye care professional examine their eyes as soon as possible.
For people who have floaters that are simply annoying, no treatment is recommended. On rare occasions, floaters can be so dense and numerous that they significantly affect vision. In these cases, a vitrectomy, a surgical procedure that removes floaters from the vitreous, may be needed. A vitrectomy removes the vitreous gel, along with its floating debris, from the eye. The vitreous is replaced with a salt solution. Because the vitreous is mostly water, you will not notice any change between the salt solution and the original vitreous. This operation carries significant risks to sight because of possible complications, which include retinal detachment, retinal tears, and cataract. Most eye surgeons are reluctant to recommend this surgery unless the floaters seriously interfere with vision.
(National Eye Institute)
What is a retinal tear/detachment?
The retina is the light-sensitive layer of tissue that lines the inside of the eye and sends visual messages through the optic nerve to the brain. When the retina detaches, it is lifted or pulled from its normal position. If not promptly treated, retinal detachment can cause permanent vision loss.
In some cases there may be small areas of the retina that are torn. These areas, called retinal tears or retinal breaks, can lead to retinal detachment.
What are the symptoms of retinal detachment?
Symptoms include a sudden or gradual increase in either the number of floaters, which are little "cobwebs" or specks that float about in your field of vision, and/or light flashes in the eye. Another symptom is the appearance of a curtain over the field of vision. A retinal detachment is a medical emergency. Anyone experiencing the symptoms of a retinal detachment should see an eye care professional immediately.
What are the different types of retinal detachment?
There are three different types of retinal detachment:
- Rhegmatogenous: A tear or break in the retina allows fluid to get under the retina and separate it from the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE), the pigmented cell layer that nourishes the retina. These types of retinal detachments are the most common.
- Tractional: In this type of detachment, scar tissue on the retina's surface contracts and causes the retina to separate from the RPE. This type of detachment is less common.
- Exudative: Frequently caused by retinal diseases, including inflammatory disorders and injury/trauma to the eye. In this type, fluid leaks into the area underneath the retina, but there are no tears or breaks in the retina.
Who is at risk for retinal detachment?
A retinal detachment can occur at any age, but it is more common in people over age 40. It affects men more than women, and Whites more than African Americans. A retinal detachment is also more likely to occur in people who:
- Are extremely nearsighted
- Have had a retinal detachment in the other eye
- Have a family history of retinal detachment
- Have had cataract surgery
- Have other eye diseases or disorders, such as retinoschisis, uveitis, degenerative myopia, or lattice degeneration
- Have had an eye injury
How is retinal detachment treated?
Small holes and tears are treated with laser surgery or a freeze treatment called cryopexy. These procedures are usually performed in the doctor's office. During laser surgery tiny burns are made around the hole to "weld" the retina back into place. Cryopexy freezes the area around the hole and helps reattach the retina.
Retinal detachments are treated with surgery that may require the patient to stay in the hospital. In some cases a scleral buckle, a tiny synthetic band, is attached to the outside of the eyeball to gently push the wall of the eye against the detached retina. If necessary, a vitrectomy may also be performed. During a vitrectomy, the doctor makes a tiny incision in the sclera (white of the eye). Next, a small instrument is placed into the eye to remove the vitreous, a gel-like substance that fills the center of the eye and helps the eye maintain a round shape. Gas is often injected into the eye to replace the vitreous and reattach the retina; the gas pushes the retina back against the wall of the eye. During the healing process, the eye makes fluid that gradually replaces the gas and fills the eye. With all of these procedures, either laser or cryopexy is used to "weld" the retina back in place.
With modern therapy, over 90 percent of those with a retinal detachment can be successfully treated, although sometimes a second treatment is needed. However, the visual outcome is not always predictable. The final visual result may not be known for up to several months following surgery. Even under the best of circumstances, and even after multiple attempts at repair, treatment sometimes fails and vision may eventually be lost. Visual results are best if the retinal detachment is repaired before the macula (the center region of the retina responsible for fine, detailed vision) detaches. That is why it is important to contact an eye care professional immediately if you see a sudden or gradual increase in the number of floaters and/or light flashes, or a dark curtain over the field of vision.
An eye care professional who has examined the patient's eyes and is familiar with his or her medical history is the best person to answer specific questions.
(National Eye Institute)