You can also check out my other posts about eyes and retinas.
After going through five cataract surgeries with four senior parents and listening to people fret about floaters in their eyes, I thought I knew a lot about middle age and senior eye problems. But now I know that floaters can lead to flashes which can lead to retinal tears. More importantly a retinal tear may lead to a detached retina. A detached retina means that “… the light-sensitive tissue in the back of the eye has separated from its supporting layers.” (Medline Plus)
In retrospect, I did not know enough about retinal disorders to be of any help to members of my family or even to myself. I’m betting that other adult children are a lot like me. I knew I had a few floaters in my eyes, and I was aware that my eye doctor regularly asked me if I experienced flashes. So a light went on — albeit a dim one — after a few days of regular flashes (in my case sort of like lightning bolts) in my right eye.
When I called the ophthalmologist to schedule a routine check-up, an alert receptionist put me on hold and quickly came back to tell me to come right into the office. At the office I went right into an examination room to see the doctor. My physician used bright lights to look into both eyes, but especially into the eye with the flashes. Nothing was obviously wrong, but one spot worried her, so I returned the next day, just to be sure the spot was not developing into a retinal tear.
The next morning the place in my eye looked worse but not torn, however the doctor decided that I needed to have the spot reinforced, and scheduled me for a laser surgery the following morning. By the time I arrived for that procedure, I had a small retinal tear. When the doctor finished, he was pretty sure that he got everything, but he asked me to return the next morning so he could recheck his work. I did, he checked, and sure enough my eye needed some additional laser treatment.
Since that second procedure, two years ago, my eye has been fine, though now I check in with the doctor each time I notice more than an occasional flash or a sudden increase in floaters. Because I am aging and extremely nearsighted, I am at risk for a retinal detachment, a more serious retina problem that can require considerable recovery time and, in some cases, create vision problems. And while recovery time after a retinal detachment can be difficult for anyone and would be tough for me, it would be far more so for a senior adult in my family.
The point is, for the most part, my doctors told me what eye symptoms to look for, and I discovered — later — a pamphlet they had given me about retinal disorders, but I had never really understood. I did not put the eye issues in the same alertness (not panic or agitation) category as getting my mammogram, exercising, or checking my cholesterol. My informal poll of friends and seniors indicates that most other people have the same level of understanding, or lack of it.
Retina problems occur most often, not exclusively, when a person is aging. Nearsightedness (myopia) increases the probability of developing floaters, a retinal tear, or a detached retinal. To ensure that timing works in a person’s favor when flashes and floaters occur, it is important to know what to look for and how to respond. To learn a lot more, check out the expert links above and below.
- Retinal Disorder Information (Mayo Clinic)
- Patient Page on Retinal Detachment (Journal of the American Medical Association Patient Pages)
- Detached and/or Torn Retina Video (Foundation of the American Academy of Ophthalmology)
This post is not a substitute for talking with your physician.