Without a healthy retina, the human eye is like a camera without film. The retina receives light rays from the front of the eye and sends them through the optic nerve to the brain where they are turned into clear, bright, colorful images. Ophthalmologists who specialize in the retina are usually called vitreo-retina specialists because they also deal with disorders of the vitreous, a clear, jelly-like substance that lies between the eye’s natural lens and the retina. When disease or injury causes clouding of the vitreous or damage to the retina, the result is a partial or complete loss of vision.
If your primary eye doctor finds signs of a retina disorder during a general eye exam, you will probably be referred to a retina specialist for additional tests and possible treatment. Early detection and treatment holds the best promise for treating retinal disorders because once the retina is damaged, repair is extremely difficult.
Preparation for the Examination
A visit to the retina specialist starts with the creation of a patient record. This will include your address and telephone numbers, insurance information, names of other doctors, list of medications being taken, and past medical records if available. Some doctors will even ask that the patient bring to the exam all medications currently being used. Because a retina exam includes dilating the eyes, it’s a good idea to bring sunglasses to wear for the trip home.
A retina exam is focused on the back of the eye. For this reason, the doctor will spend a lot of time looking through your pupil at the vitreous, retina and other structures located inside the back portion of the eye. Every patient can expect to have their eyes dilated so the doctor can get a clear view of these structures.
The following methods are normally used in diagnosing retina problems:
In the moving target test, the targets are moved from the side, where they are not visible, toward the center of vision until the patient sees them. This test can be performed with either a black screen on the wall or with a large bowl-shaped instrument.
A fixed target test, called computerized static perimetry, uses small points of light that appear bright or dim but do not move. During this test, a patient sits in a chair facing either a bowl-shaped instrument or a computer screen.
The visual field examination detects “blind spots” that may be caused by diseases of the retina.
Upon completion of the tests required for an accurate diagnosis, the doctor will discuss the various treatment options. Although retinal disorders are often complicated to treat, modern medical science has made significant treatment advances in recent years.
Common Retina Disorders
Vitreous disorders are usually characterized by “floaters” or cloudy vision. Floaters are particles that float in the vitreous and cast shadows on the retina. They appear to be strung together with a web-like thread. Some floaters are formed before birth, while others occur normally with aging. The sudden appearance of many floaters can be an indication of a serious eye disorder and should be checked by an eye doctor.
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