Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Torn vision

Torn vision
Tue, Jul 14, 2009
The Straits Times
By: Cheryl Tan

When Madam Jenny Lee first starting seeing dark tadpole-like lines floating in her vision, she thought she just had a bad case of eye dirt.

But no matter how much she tried to clean her eyes, the lines remained. She got worried and consulted an opthalmologist.

Doctors call those little lines 'floaters' and their appearance to Madam Lee meant that she had torn the retina in her right eye and needed immediate medical attention to repair it.

The 64-year-old educational consultant says: 'I felt no pain at all. The floaters just appeared out of nowhere, in the middle of a conversation I was having with a friend.'

Her symptoms are similar to those of local director Jack Neo, who saw floaters in both eyes while filming his new movie.

Although the director could not be reached for comment, reports said he had been suffering from blurry vision and the floaters multiplied in the past three months.

He has since had surgery to repair the torn retina. The procedure usually involves a 20- to 40-minute outpatient laser surgery to seal the tear.

Floaters are blood clots and tissue in the eye, indicating a retinal tear, say opthalmologists.

Dr Doric Wong, head of the vitreoretina service at the Singapore National Eye Centre, says retinal tears are fairly common. Every week, the eye centre sees about 10 patients for the condition, ranging from teenagers to those in their 70s.

According to Dr Wong, although the probability of retinal tears increases with age, people with myopia of more than 600 degrees are also more prone to tears.

Clinical associate professor Caroline Chee, from the ophthalmology department at the National University Hospital, adds that external factors such as a blow to the head or eye can also cause the retina to tear. People who have a family history of the condition are also at higher risk.

Besides floaters, quick streaks of light seen at the corners of the eyes are also a cause for concern as this may mean the retina is being tugged at.

Such tugging occurs when the eyeball's vitreous gel, a jelly-like substance, degenerates, pulling on the retina and possibly causing it to tear, says Dr Wong of the eye centre.

While torn retinas are a common problem and do not cause loss of vision, Dr Chee says they should not be ignored. If left untreated, they can cause retinal detachment, which eventually results in loss of vision and blindness.

The deterioration from torn to detached retina can happen 'within days, weeks or months', says adjunct associate professor Au Eong Kah Guan from the Singapore International Eye Cataract Retina Centre at Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre.

Once a retina is detached, apart from floaters and flashes of lights, patients will start to see shadow at the sides of their eyes.

When this happens, an emergency surgery which takes up to three hours is needed, followed by six weeks of rest.

Last September, sales manager Francis Choy, 53, underwent surgery for the retinal tear in his left eye before it got worse, but he still sees floaters occasionally.

This is normal, says Dr Au Eong. The surgery is meant to seal the torn retina and does not eliminate floaters entirely.

Mr Choy, a patient of Dr Au Eong's, has his eyes checked every three months.

He says: 'It is important that people go for eye check-ups. So many people are unaware of such eye conditions.'

This article was first published in The Straits Times.

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