Help and frequently asked questions

What are some issues that can arise in the retina?


The eye is a complex system made up of many different layers and components, each with their own part to play. The retina is a thin layer of tissue that covers the inside of the back of the eye, and its purpose is to receive light from the lens of the eye and convert it into signals that are then sent onwards to the brain for processing. A healthy retina is important for good vision, but there are a variety of issues that can occur in this specific area. Problems that can affect the retina and treatment solutions:

Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (FAP)

Sometimes a healthcare professional may need to examine the retina for signs of other conditions in the body, such as Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (FAP). This is a genetically inherited condition that can develop into colorectal cancer, and one of the ways it is detected is through a retinal examination. Previous research has discovered that congenital hypertrophy (abnormal thickening) of a particular retinal layer called the pigment epithelium (CHRPE) is a sign of FAP. This hypertrophy doesn't have any effect on vision, but it can be a common feature of FAP that is detected from birth with the use of an ophthalmoscope, an instrument used for assessing the entire back portion of the eye. 

Retinal Vein Occlusion

Another issue that involves the retina is a retinal vein occlusion, which occurs when one of the miniscule veins in the retina is blocked by a blood clot. High blood pressure and cholesterol levels, smoking and glaucoma can all be risk factors for this issue, which usually leads to a gradual decline in vision in the affected eye. Retinal vein occlusion is usually painless, and aside from the risk factors it is not known what causes it. There is no current treatment to reverse the blockage, but the underlying risk factors and possible complications can be treated. 

Retinal Detachment

Sometimes the retina can be detached from the inner surface of the eye if there is a tear or hole within the tissue. Fluid can get underneath the retina and weaken the attachment between the retina and the eye, causing it to detach. This leads to a blurring and decline in vision. Retinal detachment can be a risk if your family has a history of the issue, but it is not caused by any eye strain or physical bending and lifting you may be doing. It can be aggravated by activities like skydiving, bungee jumping and motor cross racing, however. It can be treated by repairing the hole, but laser or freezing treatments may also help if it is caught early enough. 

Lattice Degeneration

Lattice degeneration can also lead to retinal detachment in rare cases. This is the term describing degenerative changes that can affect the peripheral or outside edges of the retina, causing it to thin. It tends to run in families and is more common in those who are shortsighted, and it can sometimes occur as a result of the eye not forming properly. Laser or freezing treatments can treat any retinal tears that form as a result of this degeneration. Spots or marks on the back of the retina can be caused by an injury or disease, and they may cause problems with gradual vision loss and decline. These can be picked up during an eye test, but if you notice a developing or sudden difficulty seeing, reading, driving or doing other everyday up close activities it's best to see your optometrist immediately. 

Macular Degeneration

The macula is a specific area of the retina that is used for seeing detail and colour in things directly in front of your eyes. During an eye test, the optometrist will use drops to dilate your pupils. This allows the optometrist to see inside the eye through to the macula more clearly. A common condition that affects the macula is macular degeneration. This condition predominantly affects individuals over the age of 50 years. 

Risk factors involved are smoking, diabetes and a family history. Leaks underneath the retina can cause a blister of fluid to appear, which may lead to blurring in vision and visual distortion. You should see your optometrist if you notice these symptoms - however, it will usually improve on its own. Lasers can be used to treat the condition if it doesn't go away or recurs frequently. If you would like your retina to be examined, please contact your optometrist.