Most of us aren’t very familiar with the anatomy of the eye. Given a diagram, many people would have a hard time discerning the vitreous from the lense. Despite our general lack of awareness in regards to our eyes, most people know something about the retina. We know that it’s sensitive, and it allows us to see. But many still don’t recognize exactly how crucial our retinas are to facilitating vision.
What Exactly is the Retina?
The retina is a layer of particularly light-sensitive tissue that covers roughly 65% of the inside of the eyeball. This tissue is very thin, and contains millions of cells called rods and cones. These rod and cone cells are each programmed to pick up specific wavelengths (or colours) of light. When light is projected through the eyeball, it hits the retina, stimulating it to send messages through the optic nerve to the brain.
Sometimes, the retina is deficient in, or completely missing certain kinds of rods and cones. This makes it difficult or even impossible for the retina to perceive specific kinds of light, and results in what we refer to as colour blindness or colour deficiency.
Common Retinal Issues
A large portion of vision problems stem from damage done to the retina by disease or injury.
Retinal detachments affect approximately 1 per 10,000 per year. Although it usually happens without pain, the patient may notice a sudden increase in flashes and floaters, as well as what appears to be a black curtain descending over their vision. When your retina detaches, it can no longer send messages to your brain, rendering the eye unable to see. There are surgeries available to reattach the retina, however it must be performed quickly in order to restore your vision.
Detached retinas can be caused by blunt force to the head or eye, eye tumors and disease, or even just extreme nearsightedness.
Age Related Macular Degeneration
As the name suggests, age related macular degeneration (AMD) is a common eye problem for seniors. The disease comes in two different forms, commonly referred to as wet form and dry form. In the dry form, fatty deposits called drusen accumulate around the macula (the centre of the retina), causing the cells to stop functioning. In the wet form, irregular blood vessels start to grow under the retina, leaking blood and causing the cells of the macula to stop functioning and eventually die.
The damage caused by AMD cannot be reversed, however there are treatments to slow down the progression of the disease.
People with diabetes are at risk of a number of eye diseases, the most common and harmful being diabetic retinopathy. Unusually high blood glucose levels start to clog or erode blood vessels in the retina. Without the appropriate blood flow, the retina cannot function properly. In later stages, the damaged blood vessels can begin to leak blood into the interior of the eye. This can eventually lead to blindness. There is no cure for diabetic retinopathy, however the patient can prevent serious damage by closely managing their blood sugar levels.
Taking Care of Your Retinas
Your retinas are delicate and complex. It’s important to take proper care of them to maintain healthy eyes and strong vision. You can prevent damage UV to your retinas by wearing quality sunglasses.
A number of retina related problems are exacerbated by a poor diet and smoking, so you should focus on getting proper nutrition as well as quitting smoking.
The most important step you can take to keep your retinas healthy is to schedule regular eye exams. Your optometrist is trained to look for signs of damage or disease in your retinas. Be proactive about your retinal health, and book an exam today.