Our eyes. The window to our soul. A major organ that is our body’s best friend. So much so, that we get two of these crucial body parts. My vision is definitely something that I don’t take for granted. I am extremely near-sighted, have a mole in my eye that my eye doc keeps an eye on and I suffer from eye allergies at times. I am a frequent flyer at my eye doctor’s office.
I’m used to having issues and seeing my optician regularly, but what happened last week was unlike anything I had experienced before. One look at a medical internet search, plus my memory of my eye doc’s annual reminder to go immediately to an ER if this happened…and it did…had me scrambling to call my husband to come and get me. Pronto! Had my retina detached? It was scary, but painless and my eyes appeared to look normal in the mirror and to others, but something was indeed happening. And it got my attention. I had to urgently leave my volunteer event to jump in my husband’s truck to proceed straight to the ER. Once I called my hubs, he wasted no time getting to me. Why? A potential detached retina is not something to mess around with or ignore. What happened and why I got good news, but also news that everyone should know about, follows. It turned out that I did experience an ocular event and it turns out that almost every human will also experience this to some degree as we age. That is what the doctor told me. So, read on!
Last Thursday evening I had an uneventful and wonderful workout at my gym. I did see stars once or twice but I figured that was from standing up too quickly. Not a big deal. I continued on to my next event, a charitable volunteer commitment. Thankfully it was located at a friend’s home close to where I live. 30 minutes after my arrival, as I worked on assembling fundraising baskets, I started seeing floaters. Again, not a big deal as that happens to all of us at times. So, I worked on. Suddenly, I saw black squiggly lines appear and then sizable images that looked like spider webs. They looked real like I could reach out and grab them straight ahead of me. What in the heck?! I went to the restroom, removed the contact from my affected eye and noticed that it was a little better. But minutes later, more cobweb-looking images appeared across my left eye’s line of vision. I began to worry that I was indeed experiencing a retinal detachment.
Hubs arrived quickly and we were also checked in at the ER quickly, despite the big crowd of patients awaiting treatment. A potential retinal detachment is triaged as fast as possible on the emergency room list of potential conditions. An ultrasound of my eye showed no retinal detachment, thank goodness, but it did show what I was told may be a vitreous hemorrhage or detachment. Sure didn’t sound good, but the ER doc reassured me that I would be OK to go home, go to bed and then to call the opthalmologist he referred me to first thing in the morning.
So that is what we did.
The Next Day
The next morning the opthalmologist told me to come in right away. I was seen at 9:15am, given numbing eye drops (such an awesome invention) and then given a battery of dilated eye tests. It turned out that I did not have the viterous hemorrage. However, I had indeed experienced what is called a vitreous detachment (not near as serious as a retina detachment). That sounds pretty bad but it turns out that it isn’t horrible and that this will happen to every human as we age at some point. Mine was a bit severe because I am so near-sighted (terribly so) so that is why my symptoms were so disturbing to me, almost psychedelic. This also happened to me as I am in my 50s now, although this happens to most people later on, I am told. I got to go early…sigh.
It was such a strange experience to see what looked like moving spider webs all around me that only I could see in my line of vision. The doc explained to me what I was seeing, how it happens and why it happens. To best describe that, I am copying and pasting this below from the National Eye Institute. Read below so that if (and apparently I should say when) this happens to you, it won’t be as scary. But DO call your doctor or eye doc on call to see if you should seek medical attention immediately. I was told to be seen in the ER so that we could be sure that my episode was a detached vitreous, not a detached retina. That could still happen to me so if I have more extreme symptoms in the future, I am to call my opthalmologist immediately. I was on watch all weekend (no pun intended) to be sure that my retina did not go ahead and detach as that could happen, the doctor told me. I made it and now I am scheduled to see him in one month to be sure that I have no further tearing or thinning that may require laser eye surgery. I hope not. So far, so good. Knocking on woodl
Here is the description of what happened to me from the National Eye Institute...
What Is Vitreous Detachment (Sounds scary, right?!)
“Most of the eye’s interior is filled with vitreous, a gel-like substance that helps the eye maintain a round shape. There are millions of fine fibers intertwined within the vitreous that are attached to the surface of the retina, the eye’s light-sensitive tissue. As we age, the vitreous slowly shrinks, and these fine fibers pull on the retinal surface. Usually the fibers break, allowing the vitreous to separate and shrink from the retina. This is a vitreous detachment.
In most cases, a vitreous detachment, also known as a posterior vitreous detachment, is not sight-threatening and requires no treatment.” (Courtesy: National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health (NEI/NIH))
But like I said…even though this says “in most cases…requires no treatment”…one needs to be sure that nothing more serious is going on with the eyes.
My episode went down as I explained above and here is what was happening to my eyes in those unsettling moments I experienced according to National Eye Institute (and my own eye doc)…
“As the vitreous shrinks, it becomes somewhat stringy, and the strands can cast tiny shadows on the retina that you may notice as floaters, which appear as little “cobwebs” or specks that seem to float about in your field of vision. If you try to look at these shadows they appear to quickly dart out of the way.
One symptom of a vitreous detachment is a small but sudden increase in the number of new floaters. This increase in floaters may be accompanied by flashes of light (lightning streaks) in your peripheral, or side, vision. In most cases, either you will not notice a vitreous detachment, or you will find it merely annoying because of the increase in floaters.” (Courtesy: National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health (NEI/NIH)
I forgot to mention above that I also had the lightning streaks. It was scary! And one last passage from the National Eye Institute explains exactly why I immediately asked my hubs to drive me to the emergency room…
“Although a vitreous detachment does not threaten sight, once in a while some of the vitreous fibers pull so hard on the retina that they create a macular hole to or lead to a retinal detachment. Both of these conditions are sight-threatening and should be treated immediately.”
“If left untreated, a macular hole or detached retina can lead to permanent vision loss in the affected eye. Those who experience a sudden increase in floaters or an increase in flashes of light in peripheral vision should have an eye care professional examine their eyes as soon as possible.” (Courtesy: National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health (NEI/NIH))
Yeah, that is something to pay attention to! And that is exactly what happened to me! I had the sudden increase in floaters and the increase of flashes of light. Thank goodness I did not have permanent vision loss. This is why I have to be seen again in 30 days to be sure that I don’t develop a macular hole or detached retina since my episode was so extreme.
My opthalmologist told me that some degree of what happened to me this happens to all. So, when you have your turn to experience this normal part of aging (sigh), keep in mind that yours may be much more minor than mine or more extreme like I experienced. Don’t mess around with it and call your eye doc with your symptoms to see if you should proceed to the hospital.
I am taking it easy this weekend and next week to give my eyes some time to rest from the scary experience.
I am told that the floaters are with me for as long as I live now (isn’t aging fun…ugh) but to always be on the lookout for additional and more severe symptoms in the future.
I am on the lookout (again no pun intended) for sure as I look at the bright side (pun intended) that my own vitreous tear is a bummer and not fun…but could have been worse. And I will continue to eat healthy foods that are excellent for eye health like spinach and carrots.
Cheers to our eyes! Take care of them especially as you age. Eat well, get rest, give your eyes a break from the screen devices that are too much a part of our modern lives today, wear sunglasses and see your eye doctor annually for an eye exam. Do this even if you are lucky enough to not need glasses or contacts.