When to See a Retina Specialist

Posted on January 24, 2024 • by RCA • in Retina Specialists

When to See a Retina Specialist: Key Takeaways

  • The retina is vital for sight but prone to issues.
  • Retina specialists are ophthalmologists with specialized training in diagnosing, managing, and surgically treating retinal conditions. They focus on issues related to the macula and vitreous.
  • Retina specialists treat a wide range of conditions, including age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and diabetic retinopathy.
  • Early detection and regular eye exams are vital for preserving long-term vision.
  • Symptoms to Watch: Blurred vision, sudden vision loss, or unusual flashes warrant immediate attention.
  • Risk Factors: Age, family history, chronic conditions.
  • Connect with a top retina specialist today.

When it comes to the sense of sight, the star of the show is the retina. Composed of millions of specialized cells called rods and cones, the retina is a thin, light-sensitive tissue that lines the inner back wall of the eye. Our sense of sight happens when light enters the eye through the lens, traverses through the vitreous, and reaches the retina, similar to how a camera’s film captures light to form an image. The retina’s rods and cones capture these light signals, transmitting them as neural signals to the brain. The visual cortex of the brain decodes these signals, creating a cohesive image.

Despite its power, the retina is highly susceptible to a wide range of conditions. Due to its delicate nature, specialized function, and location, diagnosing and treating these conditions demands exceptional skill and mastery. When issues arise with your retina, consulting a retina specialist is essential.

What Is a Retina Specialist?

Retina specialists are a type of ophthalmologist who has received additional training for the diagnoses, medical management, and surgical care of the retina. They also provide specialized care for the macula, which is the central portion of the retina, containing the highest concentration of cone cells, which are responsible for our central vision and color perception. Central vision is what makes it possible for us to accomplish everything from reading to driving. Retina specialists also focus on conditions that impact the vitreous, which is the clear gel that fills most of the eye.

Conditions Treated by Retina Specialists

Many conditions fall under the purview of the retina specialty, with some of the most common being:

  • Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD): A condition of aging in which the retinal tissue thins and weakens, resulting in problems with central vision. AMD is a progressive condition with two distinct types – dry AMD and wet AMD. While dry AMD is typically milder, wet AMD can quickly result in permanent vision loss due to the growth of abnormal blood vessels in the retina. These abnormal blood vessels break easily, leaking fluids and blood into the retina and vitreous.
  • Geographic Atrophy: An advanced form of dry AMD in which the retina’s photoreceptor cells diminish and disintegrate.
  • Diabetic Retinopathy: A complication of diabetes, diabetic retinopathy is a progressive disease involving the weakening of the retina’s blood vessels. In advanced cases, abnormal blood vessels grow on the retina’s surface, leading to bleeding in the vitreous, swelling of the macula (also known as diabetic macular edema), and tractional retinal detachment.
  • Eye Flashes & Floaters: Eye flashes and floaters are common visual phenomena that most people experience at least once in their lives. While often harmless, having many floaters or persistent flashes of light, especially with sudden onset, can indicate a retinal tear or detachment, which can lead to permanent vision loss if not addressed immediately.
  • Retinal Tears & Detachment: Retinal tears and detachments are considered to be medical emergencies, as they can lead to permanent vision loss if not treated quickly. Retinal tears occur when fluid, scar tissue, or other factors form breaks in the retinal tissue. In some cases, the retina may peel off the back of the eye entirely, also known as a retinal detachment. If you’re experiencing a sudden burst of new eye floaters, flashes of light appearing in your vision, or a curtain of darkness in your vision field, it could be a sign of a retinal tear or detachment.
  • Retinal Artery & Vein Occlusions: The retina and other related components of the eye are supported by an intricate network of blood vessels, including a central artery that carries nutrients to the retina, a central vein that carries depleted blood away from the retina, and small branches. When these vessels become obstructed, it’s known as a retinal vascular occlusion. Depending on the location of the occlusion, retinal vascular occlusions can be very serious for both vision and general health. For example, a central retinal artery occlusion (CRAO) is often a precursor of an impending cerebral stroke.

Retinal Symptoms and Risk Factors

If you experience any of the following symptoms, you should strongly consider seeing a retina specialist as soon as possible:

  • Blurred vision
  • Distorted vision (straight lines appearing wavy)
  • Sudden loss of vision
  • Floaters (dark spots or specks in the field of vision)
  • Flashes of light
  • Difficulty seeing in low-light conditions
  • Changes in color perception
  • Shadows or dark areas in the peripheral vision
  • Eye pain or discomfort
  • Sensitivity to light (photophobia)
  • Gradual or sudden onset of vision changes
  • Objects appearing smaller or larger than they are
  • Difficulty reading or focusing on close objects persists despite the use of glasses
  • Double vision
  • Dry or irritated eyes that persist
  • Halos around lights
  • Problems with night vision
  • Loss of peripheral vision
  • Metamorphopsia (perceived distortion of objects)

However, in many cases, retinal conditions have no noticeable symptoms in their earliest stages; by the time symptoms manifest, treating the condition may become more challenging. As such, patients must be proactive about their vision health by scheduling regular eye exams, especially if they are at risk of developing a retinal condition. Some of these risk factors include:

  • Being over the age of 50
  • Having a family history of retinal conditions
  • Having a chronic or systemic condition, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, or various autoimmune conditions
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Previous eye injury or surgery
  • Having a history of eye inflammation or infections
  • Ethnicity (some retinal conditions have a higher prevalence in certain ethnic groups)
  • Using certain medications, such as corticosteroids or hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil)
  • Having severe nearsightedness

If any of these risk factors apply to you, seeing a retina specialist earlier rather than later makes it much more likely that you’ll preserve your vision in the long run.

Protect Your Vision – See a Retina Specialist

The eye is our visual gateway to the world around us, allowing us to see and experience everything in life. As our most important sense, vision health should be paramount on everyone’s list of health concerns. From common conditions like macular degeneration to rare ones like retinitis pigmentosa, retina specialists provide advanced, vision-saving care. If you’re experiencing any symptoms or are at risk of developing a retinal condition, don’t wait – schedule an appointment with a retina specialist as soon as possible.

As the largest network of retina practices in the United States, Retina Consultants of America is here to connect you with the leading retina specialists in your area. Search our network or contact us directly to find exceptional retinal care near you.