Retinal Detachment

Early diagnosis key to avoiding vision loss.

Photo by Nerissa Johnson.

Heather (left) had a great experience with
Dr. Kumar and the staff at Florida Retina Institute.

Heather Thompson is a busy, stay-at-home mom to three daughters, ages 14, 13 and 9. She volunteers at their schools and enjoys being active with them, whether it’s paddle boarding, bicycling, swimming or just hanging out at the beach.

“We decided that when we had kids that I was going to stay home and take care of them and focus on them,” the 43-year-old Port Orange native says. “I also love to work out. Any kind of physical activity is fun for me. But I get my downtime, too.”

Heather’s busy schedule gives her a lot to keep up with. It also gives her a lot to keep an eye on. Unfortunately, vision problems have been an issue for Heather since before she started going to school.

“My mom noticed when I was little that I would squint when I would look to grab my cup of water or something off the table, so she took me to the eye doctor, and I’ve been wearing eyeglasses ever since I was about three,’’ Heather relates.

Later, while in elementary school, Heather had to wear a patch on her left eye to correct lazy eye. That condition was eventually corrected, but she wore glasses for reading all through junior high and high school.

Heather’s vision remained steady while she was in college, but several years later, in January 2018, she started to suffer from eye strain, blurred vision and floaters. She went to her eye doctor and got new glasses, thinking that would solve the problem.

It didn’t. Six months later, during another visit to her eye doctor, a cataract was discovered in Heather’s right eye. A specialist later confirmed the diagnosis but suspected a retinal problem behind the cataract.

A retinal specialist confirmed the retinal problem, which was diagnosed as a chronic detached retina. He wanted to do surgery the next day, but that seemed like a drastic move to Heather, who wanted to get a second opinion before going under the knife.

Her research led her to Florida Retina Institute and Jaya Kumar, MD.

Like Peeling Wallpaper

After an exam and tests, Dr. Kumar confirmed the detached retina diagnosis, which was near the center of the retina. That area, called the macula, enables people to see  images directly in front of them.

“You can think of the retina like film in a traditional camera,” Dr. Kumar explains. “It’s the lining on the back of the eye. It plays a very important role in transferring light images, and it processes that information and sends it to the brain so that we can actually see an image.

“Whenever there’s a disruption in the retina, it interupts our ability to see. And with a retinal detachment, you have a tear in the retina that causes fluid to go underneath the retina.

“I describe it to my patients as wallpaper coming off the wall. It’s almost like it’s peeling off, so our job with a retinal detachment is to flatten out the retina, put that wallpaper back on the wall so those images can be processed, and you can see again.

“The most common symptoms we see with detached retinas are flashing lights or what some people describe as sparkling lights in their vision, and floaters, where you may start seeing a couple of what one patient described as champagne bubbles.

“I’ve had some patients describe floaters as just seeing cobwebs in their vision. A third symptom would be a ‘curtain’ coming over their vision, so suddenly, it looks like one part of their visual field is missing.”

“I had a good experience with Florida Retina Institute from the time I walked in to the time I walked out. Dr. Kumar is extremely warm and compassionate. That’s what I love about her.” – Heather

Dr. Kumar says the condition often happens spontaneously as the vitreous, a naturally occurring gel in the eye, starts to separate from the retina. This often happens as people age, but trauma, eye inflammation, diabetes and nearsightedness elevate the risk.

Small focal tears can be sealed in the doctor’s office with a freezing probe or medical laser. Larger or multiple tears require surgery in an operating room.

“We remove the gel from the back of the eye, flatten the retina, and apply a laser barricade around the tears,” Dr. Kumar says.

“Then we usually put a gas bubble or silicone oil inside the eye that will help keep the retina flat. Another component is adding a scleral buckle, which is a silicone band that is placed on the exterior part of the eye to further support the retina.”

Because the eye naturally produces its own fluid, removing the gel does not cause an issue. The gas bubble dissolves in two to eight weeks, although the oil requires an additional surgery three to six months later to have it removed. Recovery time from surgery can take several weeks. The earlier the condition is diagnosed, the easier it is to correct, Dr. Kumar stresses.

“Retinal detachment is not uncommon,” she notes. “And it’s important that if you do have symptoms, you have them evaluated to make sure you don’t have a tear or detachment. The sooner you come in, the better the chances are we can fix it, if it’s small, in the clinic, and you can avoid surgery.”

While fairly common and easily fixed, a detached retina is serious, Dr. Kumar warns. Failure to treat the condition could result in permanent vision loss.

“A Good Experience”

Because Heather’s case was chronic, it did require surgery, which was performed after her cataract was removed. During the surgery, Dr. Kumar removed the gel in Heather’s right eye and inserted the gas bubble to keep the retina flat. She also added the scleral buckle to further support the retina.

“It took about four to six weeks for recovery,” Heather says.

A follow-up visit a month after the surgery showed no issues.

“It had healed properly, and things were looking good for the retina,” Heather says. “It’s healthy and attached.”

Heather, who has experienced eye problems off and on during her lifetime, still has to wear glasses to see clearly and is now seeing a cornea specialist for additional treatment unrelated to her retinal issue.

She also sees Dr. Kumar every six months to ensure her retinas remain healthy. Her retinal surgery, meanwhile, has allowed Heather to resume her busy lifestyle of keeping up with three girls.

“I had a good experience with Florida Retina Institute from the time I walked in to the time I walked out,” Heather says. “Dr. Kumar is extremely warm and compassionate. That’s what I love about her.

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    • Florida Retina Institute

      Founded by James A. Staman, MD in 1979, Florida Retina Institute has 19 locations throughout Central Florida, North Florida, and Southeast Georgia. They have proudly delivered Excellence in Vitreo-Retinal Diseases and Surgery for 40 years. T... Read More

    • Jaya B. Kumar, MD

      Jaya B. Kumar, MD, is board certified by the American Board of Ophthalmology and the National Board of Medical Examiners. She earned a bachelor of science degree in the Honors Program and a Doctor of Medicine degree at St. Louis University in S... Read More