LiveSmart: Keep the Light in Your Eyes – Protect Your Retinas

[This article was peer reviewed/edited by Dr. Christopher Guzda, DO, director of emergency medicine at Samaritan Hospital – Albany Memorial Campus.]

If you’re old enough to remember when you had to put film in a camera to get a picture, then you can appreciate the important role of your eye’s retina.

The retina is the thin layer of tissue lining the back surface of the eye. Like the film in a 20th century camera, it captures visual images and sends them to the brain. Without a healthy retina, your vision is severely hampered, if not lost altogether.

Most common are retinal tears and holes. As a natural consequence of aging, the retina thins, making it vulnerable. At the same time, the vitreous gel that fills the middle of the eye begins to shrink. As it does so, it tends to tug on the retina and may loosen it and cause it to peel away. If tears or holes develop in the weakened retina, the gel is able to get behind the retina and speed the process of peeling.

There is no pain, but the tugging causes the retina to give out visual symptoms – flashes of sparkling light when your eyes are closed or you are in a dark room. As little pieces of debris collect in the vitreous gel, floaters may become increasingly noticeable in your field of vision.

Most individuals have at least some floaters. They develop gradually and are usually no cause for concern. But when you notice new floaters, a greater number of floaters or different kinds of floaters, it could be a signal that your retina is damaged or beginning to peel away. If any of these symptoms arise, schedule an appointment as soon as possible with an ophthalmologist, a doctor who specializes in diseases of the eye and overall eye health.

Less common but most serious is a detached retina. When the retina pulls away from the layer of blood vessels that nourish it, you may experience something like a grey curtain or veil suddenly moving across your field of vision. This is an emergency situation that requires immediate attention and, likely, surgery.

The risks for retinal complications include age, family history and injury to the eye. Several studies have pointed to a higher risk of retinal tears and detachment following surgery to remove cataracts, often coming in the first six months following the procedure.

Most retinal tears and holes and even 85 to 90 percent of retinal detachments can be repaired. The key is to be aware of the symptoms, particularly any sudden reduction of vision. The earlier a retinal problem is detected, the better the chance of maintaining vision.

When every second counts, St. Peter’s Health Partners has top-quality emergency departments and urgent care centers all across the Capital Region. Our emergency departments in Albany and Troy are open 24 hours, seven days a week, offering a wide range of services for emergency care with highly trained staff, diagnostic testing and access to specialists.

For more information, visit us at

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