The retina is the delicate, light-sensitive tissue that covers the interior wall of the eye that includes the macula, which is made up of light-sensitive cells that provide us with sharp, detailed vision. Like the film in a camera, it receives images projected through the lens of the eye. In a healthy eye, images are focused onto the retina and then converted into electrical signals that are sent to the brain for processing.
When the retina is damaged, your vision may become impaired. Damage to the retina may be caused by injury, illness or as a result of aging.
Conditions and Diseases of the Retina
Macular Degeneration (AMD) is a process of degradation and damage that occurs to the macula. It’s linked with age, family history, smoking, and is one of the most common causes of vision loss in people over the age of 60.
If you have diabetes mellitus, your body does not use and store sugar (glucose) properly. Elevated levels of glucose in your blood damage eye capillaries (small blood vessels) over time. This damage is the cause of diabetic retinopathy, which affects the tissue at the back of your eye (your retina). The condition can develop in anyone who has type 1 or type 2 diabetes.
A macular hole is a small break in the macula, which is located in the retina. A macular hole can cause blurred and distorted central vision. The size of the hole and its location on the retina determine how much it will affect a person’s vision. When a Stage III macular hole develops, most central and detailed vision can be lost. If left untreated, a macular hole can lead to a detached retina. Macular holes are related to aging and usually occur in people over age 60.
Retinal detachment is when the retina becomes separated from its underlying supportive tissue. Retinal detachment separates the retinal cells from the layer of blood vessels that provides oxygen and nourishment. The retina cannot function when these layers are detached, and the longer retinal detachment goes untreated, the greater the risk of permanent vision loss. Warning signs of retinal detachment include the sudden appearance of floaters and flashes and reduced vision.
Retinal Vein Occlusion
Retinal vein occlusion is a blockage of the small veins that carry blood away from the retina. It’s most often caused by hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) and the formation of a blood clot. Risk factors of retinal vein occlusion, which increase with age, include diabetes, high blood pressure, and other eye diseases like glaucoma, macular edema, or vitreous hemorrhage.
Taking Care of Your Retinas
The best treatment of any retinal condition is preventative care.
The early stages of eye disease often have no symptoms. However, an annual eye exam can provide early detection of disease. Early detection and proper treatment may prevent long-term damage and in some cases restore vision impairments.
Incorporating eye-healthy foods into your diet is an easy thing you can do to keep your eyes healthy. The cells of your body, eyes included, need antioxidants to protect against disease, and a diet containing vitamins A, C and E as well as the minerals selenium and zinc offers protection against age-related health concerns, cataracts and other eye diseases. Vitamin A, specifically, is essential to retina health, as it aids the eyes in adapting from light to dark, helping to prevent night blindness.
Additionally, be sure to wear sunglasses when you’re outside! UV rays can be harmful to the sensitive tissues in your eyes.
Finally, if you smoke, helping to insure healthy eyes is one more reason to stop.