Retinal detachment, a condition that afflicts about 10,000 Americans each year, puts an individual at risk for vision loss or blindness. In a new study in the New England Journal of Medicine, a leading ophthalmologist at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center writes, however, that a high probability of reattachment and visual improvement is possible by using one of three currently available surgical techniques.
"Although no randomized trials have been conducted that show definitively that one procedure is best for every situation, improvements in these surgical techniques have led to effective treatments for most patients," says Dr. Donald J. D'Amico, ophthalmologist-in-chief at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, professor and chairman of ophthalmology at Weill Cornell Medical College, and an international leader in vitreoretinal surgery.
Although relatively rare, retinal detachment can occur when holes, tears or breaks appear in the light-sensitive retina as a result of trauma or pulling away of the gelatinous mass, known as the vitreous, that fills the back of the eye. Retinal tears occur most often in adults over age 60, but may occur much earlier, particularly in those with high myopia. The sudden onset of light flashes and "floaters" could be the warning signs of an impending retinal detachment, although these symptoms do not always mean that a retinal tear has occurred. Surgery is the only treatment for a retinal detachment.
Dr. D'Amico offers his recommendations for treating a 57-year-old man who experiences sudden flashes and floaters in one eye, progressive loss of vision and a retinal detachment in the article, "Primary retinal detachment."
The three surgical options currently in use to treat such a case are:
For the patient described in the vignette who went to his ophthalmologist with classic symptoms of primary retinal detachment, including flashing lights, floaters and progressive loss of vision, Dr. D'Amico's first recommendation would be to perform a pneumatic retinopexy. "I would select this option for this patient because this specific detachment is well-suited to pneumatic retinopexy by virtue of the retinal breaks being located close together in the superior retina, which is the easiest location to treat with an intraocular gas bubble. Furthermore, the procedure can be done immediately in the doctor's office at lower cost and with fewer risks of complications, compared to buckling or vitrectomy, and it also compares quite favorably with the other procedures with having a 75 percent chance of restoring vision to 20/50 or better after this minimally invasive procedure," Dr. D'Amico says.
As with any surgery, there are risks associated with each of these techniques. For example, vitrectomy can cause cataract or elevated pressure inside the eye, especially in people with glaucoma; scleral buckling can cause a change in the shape of the eye that may require alteration of the eyeglass prescription; and pneumatic retinopexy often requires more than one surgery to reattach the retina.
"The benefits of surgery, however, far outweigh the risks," says Dr. D'Amico, who performs all of these procedures. "No matter which procedure the surgeon chooses, there is a very good chance today that a patient's retina can be reattached and his or her vision preserved."
The above story is based on materials provided by New York- Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center/Weill Cornell Medical College. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.
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