Over 1.3 billion people have some sort of vision impairment, whether that means they need glasses, readers, or have complete/partial blindness.
As we age, our vision will naturally decline. However, not all vision issues are normal. Retinal disease, in particular, affects over 200,000 people in the United States alone. If left untreated, retina problems can lead to blindness.
But how can you tell which vision symptoms are worrying and which are just a result of aging?
In this article, we are going to cover some of the top warning signs that your vision issues could be more serious than simple aging. Keep reading to learn more.
A Quick Eye Lesson
Before we get into the warning signs, it’s important to understand the different parts of the eye to understand what the retina actually is.
The retina itself is the layer of tissue found at the very back of the eye. When light enters your eye and hits the retina, the retina will process that light information and send signals to the brain through your optic nerve.
Without the retina, your brain won’t receive any signals about what you’re seeing. If the retina is damaged, or degenerated, it can result in vision loss and eventual blindness.
Warning Signs of Retina Problems
Now that you know how the retina works, let’s look at some of the top symptoms that could indicate you have retinal problems.
- Flashing Lights
Flashing lights can be a symptom of a number of conditions including migraines, eye injury, and retina problems. If you don’t often suffer from headaches or have never experienced random flashing lights before, this can be a sign that you could have a retinal disease or problem.
As we went over earlier, the retina is responsible for sending light signals to the brain. When the retina is damaged or diseased, it can send incorrect and/or abnormal signals to your brain, which could cause you to experience this “flashing light” phenomenon.
- “Dimmer” Vision
Dim vision can be characterized as things looking darker than usual, being “muddied”, and seeing less contrast. Some compare it to how it looks when you wear slightly tinted sunglasses or dimming the light switch on an overhead light.
- Double Vision
Double vision is when you see a duplicate version at the same time as the real version. The doubled version is often blurry and less sharp compared to what you’re actually seeing. The two images are often overlapping, layered, and/or blurry, which can be disorienting and uncomfortable for people with this symptom.
While double vision can be a symptom of various disorders, it often points to a retinal issue.
- Distorted Vision
Double vision can be classified as one type of distorted vision. However, most people with retinal problems experience a few types of distorted vision, including:
- Double vision
- “Wavy” lines
- Things appearing crooked
- Blurred vision
The severity of these vision problems can vary, and many people mistake their blurry vision as simply worsening vision related to age. However, you should always be evaluated by an eye care professional to rule out serious issues like a retinal disease.
- Specks and/or Lines in Vision
We’ve all experienced this before: you see random dots or lines in your vision for a few minutes before they disappear. These are normal and happen to all of us at some point.
However, if you notice this happening more often, or the lines/specks don’t go away, that could be a sign there’s something serious going on. This is a common sign of retinal damage or degeneration: damaged retinas send incorrect signals to the brain, which can cause you to see these random lines/squiggles.
- Blind Spots
We all have one blind spot in our peripheral vision because of how the optic nerve is situated in the back of the eye.
Developing larger or an increased number of blind spots is cause for concern and a definite warning sign of retinal issues. These could be in the form of complete blind spots, large shadows, or something “blocking” your vision in a certain area.
- Noticeable Vision Issues That Worsen Over TimeThis symptom is a bit harder to pinpoint. As we’ve said earlier, it’s natural for our vision to decline as we age. It’s a part of life.
But if you notice drastic changes in a short period of time, that’s cause for concern. It’s also worth noting any changes in vision to your eye doctor; they’ll be able to evaluate whether your vision changes and issues are cause for concern, especially if it’s combined with any of the other symptoms.
Types of Retinal Diseases
Each of those warning signs signal that you might be dealing with a larger retinal issue. Let’s look at some of the most common retinal problems and how the above symptoms come into play with each of them.
Macular Degeneration (MD)
Macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss in people age 50 and older. With this disease, the center of your retina starts to degenerate and deteriorate, which leads to worsened vision and vision loss.
There are two subtypes: wet MD and dry MD.
With wet MD, blood vessels grow in areas under the macula where they shouldn’t. This leads to leaking fluid and blood in the area and can cause rapid and massive damage to the retina. You’ll notice a quick and severe onset of symptoms, especially blurred/distorted vision.
Dry MD is caused by the gradual break down of these cells. Because this occurs over time and symptoms worsen gradually, it can be hard to diagnose. That’s why it’s so important to keep up with regular eye exams.
Retinal Tears and/or Detachment
Like other tissue types, retinal tissue can become torn. Fluid in the eye can then fill the tear underneath the retina, causing increased pressure. As the pressure builds, and if the tear is left untreated, the entire retina can detach.
Retinal tears can lead to blurred and worsened vision because of this leaking fluid. Sudden and rapid symptoms are common with retinal detachment including flashing lights and “floaters” in the eye.
If you catch the tear early, it can be treated (usually with laser treatment). Surgery can be used to attempt to reattach the retina if it does become completely detached.
Diabetic Eye Disease
Diabetic eye disease, also known as diabetic retinopathy, is caused by complications from diabetes. The blood vessels in the back of the eye can leak blood and fluid, which leads to blurred/distorted vision, dark spots, and the feeling of pressure in the eye.
Taking proper care of your diabetes can help you avoid this problem. If you are diabetic and experiencing these symptoms, speak with a doctor as soon as possible. You can receive treatment in order to slow the progression of the disorder.
This is a genetic disorder that leads to abnormal retinal degeneration. Unlike some of the other problems on this list, this disorder is gradual and leads to vision loss and issues over time instead of rapid onset.
Since the rods, which are responsible for helping us see things in low light, die off first, the first symptom that people experience is usually night blindness. It then progresses to general worsening vision, “muddied” and dim coloring, and loss of peripheral vision.
Retinoblastoma is cancer of the retina. This is a rare type of cancer that usually affects children. It can lead to tumor growth in the eyes, which leads to blurred/distorted vision, vision loss, and even blindness. The tumors can physically affect the vision by damaging the retina, and they can lead to fluid and pressure build-up in the eye as well.
Retinoblastoma can be treated with laser therapy, radiation, cryotherapy, chemotherapy, and surgery.
A macular hole is a small hole/tear in the macula, which is in the central retinal area, and can occur because of illness, eye injury, or aging.
This small area of damage can lead to worsened vision, loss of fine details, dark spots, and a “muddied” and “foggy” field of vision.
If You Notice These Signs, See an Eye Doctor ASAP
Any of the signs covered in this article could indicate retina problems, especially when they occur concurrently, or your family has a history of retinal issues. If you notice any of these symptoms, schedule an appointment with your eye doctor to get checked out.
Keep up with yearly eye exams! This can help you and your doctor catch anything serious before it worsens. Contact us to set one up today!
Nervous about your upcoming appointment? It helps to know exactly what to expect. Read this article to learn about what happens at a comprehensive eye exam.