In recent hockey news, you may have noticed that NHL star Al MacInnis had surgery to repair a detached retina in one eye and repair a weakened retina in the other eye. The severity of his condition has drawn speculation as to whether this may end his hockey career.

The retina is a thin layer of tissue that lines the inner posterior portion of the eye.  It consists of fine cells called photoreceptors, or rods and cones.  These cells transmit light from the eye to the brain where it is perceived as vision.  During a retinal detachment, the retina partially or completely peels away from the back of the eye.  Once it is detached, the retina stops working and light signals cannot get back to the brain to be processed.  To the patient, some degree of vision loss occurs.  Depending on the severity of the detachment, vision loss can be severe and permanent. 

Symptoms of retinal detachments usually consist of seeing flashing lights or floating spots in the vision, or an overall decrease in vision.  The decrease in vision is sometimes described by patients as experiencing a “curtain” coming down into their field of vision.  Some patients experience no symptoms at all.

The causes of a retinal detachment are numbered: injury to the eye, blow to the head, eye diseases, eye surgery, conditions such as diabetes and excessive near-sightedness.  Some patients may have areas where their retina is thinned.  These areas could potentially lead to retinal detachments.  It should be noted that a retinal detachment can occur years after an eye injury or a blow to the head takes place.  This happens to be the situation with Al MacInnis.  An opposing player high-sticked him in the eye two seasons ago, creating a situation where a retinal detachment is likely.  Fortunately the incidence of a retinal detachment is less than 0.5%.

Treating a retinal detachment involves surgery.  The goal of the surgery is to first reattach the affected retina and to secondly prevent further vision loss.  If there are areas of retinal weakening even without a detachment, an ophthalmologist may elect to stabilize the retina using freezing or a laser treatment (not the same laser used for laser eye surgery) to decrease the chance of a retinal detachment from occurring.  The longer a patient waits to have a retinal detachment repaired, the lower the success rate of the surgery.

Preventing a retinal detachment can be very difficult.  However, when performing high risk activities such as sports, using power tools or yard tools always wear eye protection.  Due to the vision loss that can result from a retinal detachment, should you experience any of the symptoms mentioned above, promptly consult the care of an optometrist or ophthalmologist to have your retina thoroughly examined.       

A regular eye exam is a key part of good vision health. Use our find an optometrist directory to find an eye doctor near you and to schedule an appointment.