That’s your retina, a membrane less than half a millimeter thick. It’s full of photoreceptor cells called rods and cones that send information to your optic nerve: 75 to 150 million rods relay shapes in black-and-white, while 7 million cones transmit information about color. When the retina’s damaged, those cells can’t do their job. If the damage becomes severe enough, you may see nothing. You’ll find more information on Horizon Eye Care’s Retina Center page.
Routine eye exams detect alterations in the retina, but sudden changes should be checked immediately. A dramatic increase in the size or frequency of "floaters," small specks commonly found in our visual fields, can indicate a problem. So can bright flashes of light, as if someone were quickly flipping a switch on and off. By contrast, a shimmering glow or "dancing lights" frequently indicate a migraine.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) remains the major retinal problem in the 50 and older population. It starts in the "dry" form, where you lose some details and a sense of color. If it progresses to the "wet" stage, you lose the central portion of your vision and may eventually become legally blind. There’s no way to cure it or reverse the process.
The retina and optic nerve belong to the central nervous system; unlike other nerves, which may recover from injury or disease, they have limited capacity to regenerate. The secret is to preserve the vision you have, which can be done 90% of the time with wet AMD if it’s treated early.
Sensible behavior minimizes the likelihood of a retinal crisis. While issues increase with age, and genetic history plays a part, the worst thing you can do is smoke: Even if you quit eventually, you can’t completely erase the harm you’ve done. Wear sunglasses outdoors. Exercise to improve cardiovascular health. Eat green vegetables, fruits and fish. Control blood pressure.
This advice especially applies to diabetics, who may think they’re treating their disease well enough (and see well enough) but don’t get proper eye care. Diabetes makes eyes especially sensitive, which is why it’s the leading cause of preventable blindness in adults.
Fortunately, technology now lets doctors treat retinal problems more effectively. Medications can be utilized to shrink harmful blood-vessels, which worsens AMD and diabetic eye disease. This and other therapies fight vein occlusions, which are blockages of retinal blood vessels, vital for good vision. In any case, speed is essential: If you suspect retinal trouble, act promptly.