Retinal Disease

What is Retinal Disease?

Retinal Disease is a condition that affects the retina of the eye. The retina is located toward the back of the eye. It is a light-sensitive part of the eye and takes in the light energy that penetrates the eye and then converts it to signals that are transmitted through the optic nerve and into the brain to create an image. As such, the retina is incredibly important to vision and diseases that affect that part of the eye can have a major impact on a person’s ability to see properly.

There are numerous retinal diseases, some of which affect the retina as a whole and others that affect the macula which is the central portion of the retina and is responsible for sharp central vision and seeing fine details. Macular degeneration is one type of retinal disease that causes progressive vision loss and causes the cells in the macula to break down.

The causes of the various retinal diseases can vary a great deal. The aging process is a common cause of retinal problems. Macular degeneration, for example, is often related to a person’s age. Other factors can include genetic or chromosomal abnormalities, inherited diseases, and the like.

What are the Symptoms of Retinal Disease?

While retinal diseases vary in some of their specific symptoms, there are also some that they all have in common. Vision loss is a common symptom of retinal diseases. Oftentimes, the vision loss occurs either centrally with a loss of sharpness or detail in the central vision or peripherally. This can also involve blurry vision in general. Peripheral vision loss may also progressively move toward the center of the visual field. Many people often note visual “floaters” meaning they have spots or specks of vision blockage that seem to move across their eyes.

Retinal Disease Causes

There are a wide variety of retinal diseases and each one has its own array of potential causes.

Diabetic retinopathy is a common type of retinal disease caused by the deterioration of blood vessels in the back of the eye, which leads to fluid being leaked underneath the retina. This occurs as a result of increased glucose levels in the blood caused by diabetes.

Age is a common cause of retinal disease, particularly for a disease called macular degeneration. Dry macular degeneration usually occurs first and causes a breakdown of light-sensitive cells, as well as a buildup of waste in the retina. Eventually, this progresses to wet macular degeneration when new blood vessels grow in an attempt to clear the retina and begin to leak fluid into the eye.

A retinal disease called retinis pigmentosa, which causes a breakdown of cells in the retina, is caused by genetics. It is an inherited disorder which affects the body’s ability to make proteins needed by retina cells.

Another common retinal disease called epiretinal membranes is caused when a fibrous film forms on the back of the eye and pulls at the retina, leading to distorted vision. This condition can sometimes occur as a result of previous trauma to the eye, but often the root cause is unknown.

How is Retinal Disease Treated?

The exact treatments for retinal diseases depend upon the specific disease diagnosed. However, oftentimes, prescription medications including eye drops can help to slow the progress of vision loss and discomfort. Eye drops can also reduce what is known as intraocular pressure which can occur as a result of retinal diseases. There are numerous medical procedures that can also help with retinal diseases including the injection of medications, implanting a prosthesis for the retina, cryotherapy (freezing), and laser treatments, among others.

Retinal Disease Prevention

It isn’t always possible to prevent all types of retinal disease, but there are steps you can take to help maintain good eye health. Firstly, regular eye examinations are vital because they can identify early warning signs of retinal disease and give you an opportunity to undergo treatment early before serious problems develop.

Secondly, quitting smoking is advisable because many eye conditions, such as macular degeneration, are strongly linked with smoking. Quitting tobacco will also reduce your risk of many other diseases, such as cancer, stroke and hypertension.

People with diabetes should closely follow the advice from their doctor in regards to managing their condition. The more diabetes progresses, the higher the risk of developing retinal diseases. A balanced diet should be an important part of diabetes treatment or management, but this has an added benefit for the eyes. Dark leafy greens are particularly good for the eyes, as are omega-3 fatty acids typically found in salmon, tuna and halibut.

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Last Reviewed:
October 09, 2016
Last Updated:
December 11, 2017