The retina is a thin layer of tissue at the back of your eye that transforms light and images into nerve signals sent to your brain. It is a vital part of your vision and overall eye health. However, the retina can be affected by various diseases and conditions that can damage it and cause vision loss. Regular retinal exams are essential to detect and treat these problems early before they become irreversible.
What is a Retinal Exam?
A retinal exam is a comprehensive eye exam that involves dilating your pupils with special eye drops and taking digital pictures of the inside of your eye with a high-resolution imaging system. This allows vitreoretinal specialists to see the retina, the optic nerve, and the blood vessels clearly and check for any signs of abnormalities or diseases.
Common Retinal Conditions Detected by a Retinal Exam
A complication of diabetes, diabetic retinopathy occurs when the disease damages the retina’s blood vessels, causing blurry, distorted vision and even potential blindness. This condition has two stages: non-proliferative, where blood vessels in the retina become damaged and close off, and proliferative, where new, abnormal blood vessels grow in a process known as neovascularization. These weak vessels can bleed into the retina and may develop scar tissue, causing blurry, darkened, or cloudy vision. Potential retina treatments for this condition include laser photocoagulation, vitrectomy, and cryotherapy.
Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)
This degenerative condition targets the macula, the main area of the retina responsible for sharp and detailed vision. AMD can cause blurry or distorted vision, especially in the center of your visual field. There are two types of AMD: dry and wet. Dry AMD is more common and occurs when the macula thins and deteriorates over time. Wet AMD is a medical emergency that happens when abnormal blood vessels grow under the macula and leak fluid or blood, causing rapid vision loss.
This medical emergency occurs when the retina separates from the underlying layer of tissue that supports it. This can be caused by trauma, injury, inflammation, or aging. Retinal detachment can cause flashes, floaters, or a curtain-like effect in your vision. If left untreated, it can cause permanent blindness.
How Often Should You Have a Retinal Exam?
The frequency of retinal exams depends on your age, health, and risk factors. The American Optometric Association (AOA) recommends that healthy adults between the ages of 18 and 64 have a comprehensive eye exam, including a retinal exam, at least every two years, or annually if they are 65 or older. However, some people may need more frequent retinal exams, such as:
- People with diabetes, high blood pressure, or other chronic conditions that can affect the eyes
- People with a family history of retinal diseases or conditions, such as AMD or glaucoma
- People who take certain medications that can have side effects on the eyes, such as hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil) for arthritis
- People who have had eye surgery, injury, or trauma
- People who have symptoms or signs of retinal problems, such as blurred vision, floaters, flashes, or dark spots
What Are the Benefits of Regular Retinal Exams?
- They can help detect retinal diseases and conditions early when they are most treatable and preventable. For example, a retina specialist can help you manage diabetic retinopathy with good blood sugar control and laser treatment, AMD with nutritional supplements and prescription injections like IZERVAY (avacincaptad pegol intravitreal solution), and retina surgery.
- They can help monitor and manage existing retinal problems and evaluate the effectiveness of retina treatment. For example, retinal imaging can show the progression of AMD or the response to injections, and fluorescein angiography can show the leakage of blood vessels in wet AMD or diabetic retinopathy.
- They can help protect your vision and quality of life. Many retinal diseases and conditions can cause permanent vision loss if left untreated, affecting your daily activities like reading, driving, or working. By having regular retinal exams, you can preserve and improve your vision and prevent or delay blindness.
A Word From Center For Sight
When it comes to your eye health, a single retinal exam can be what you need to start regaining clear vision again. Don’t wait until you are 40 and older for your first eye exam; start now so you can spot a potential retinal condition before it forms.
Let a retina specialist know if you have any sudden vision changes and are unsure what is causing it. The eye doctors at Center For Sight will advise you on how often you should have a retinal exam based on your unique needs and circumstances. Book an appointment with us today.
The advice in this blog is for general informational purposes only and may not be suited for your exact insurance plan and retinal needs. Therefore, consulting a qualified healthcare professional for personalized advice and treatment is essential.
About Center For Sight
Center For Sight provides ophthalmology, optometry, dermatology and cosmetic surgery services to patients in Southwest Florida. The practice offers patients convenient access to nationally renowned surgeons, highly-trained, compassionate staff members and cutting-edge technology. Center For Sight’s mission is to “bring clear vision to life” through trusting relationships and the unending pursuit of excellence in eye care. For additional information and locations, visit CenterForSight.net.
About Center For Sight Foundation
The Center For Sight Foundation is a donor-advised fund maintained and operated by the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, a section 501(c)(3) organization. The fund is composed of contributions made by individual donors. David W. Shoemaker, M.D., established the Center For Sight Foundation to support the annual Mission Cataract program, which restores vision at no cost for people living at the poverty level suffering vision loss due to cataracts. For more information, visit CFSFoundation.org.