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The retina is a thin membrane that lines the back portion of the eyeball. It functions like film in a camera, converting light into electrical impulses that are carried to the brain. To function properly, the layer behind it, called the choroid, must nourish the retina. If any part of the delicate retina is damaged, it is very likely that some degree of vision will be lost.
Tears and breaks often occur with aging. The vitreous gel may shrink and pull on the retina, leaving a tear or hole. Degeneration of retinal tissue over time also may cause breaks. Breaks usually occur on the peripheral retina and there is little effect on vision. If tears and breaks lead to retinal detachment, there is severe loss of vision.
Most retinal detachments are preceded by one or more tears or breaks in the retina. When a tear or break develops, fluid that fills the interior of the eye passes through the opening and gets beneath the retina. The retina peels away from the choroid and floats in the central portion of the eye. After the retina separates from the choroid, it loses its nourishment and ceases to function. Retinal detachment generally causes rapid loss of vision over hours or days.
Signs and Symptoms
Retinal tears and breaks: sudden flashes of light and/or floaters; retinal detachment: the sensation of a dark shadow or curtain covering the visual field, blindness if the entire retina detaches