FO­CUS RETINA

ON THE An in­side look at a vi­tal as­pect of eye health.

Expat Living (Singapore) - - Health & Fitness - BY AMY GREEN­BURG

We all know our eyes are im­por­tant. But, did you know that the retina, the thin layer of tis­sue that lines the back of the eye, is per­haps the most crit­i­cal part of our eye? Not only does it re­ceive light and con­vert it into neu­ral sig­nals that are sent to the brain for vis­ual recog­ni­tion, but it also plays a part in ev­ery­thing from my­opia ( near- sight­ed­ness), di­a­betes, hy­per­ten­sion and high choles­terol to mac­u­lar de­gen­er­a­tion, glau­coma and cataracts.

Made up of 10 com­plex lay­ers, our retina houses mil­lions of pho­tore­cep­tors, which are the most vi­tal cells in our vis­ual path­way, ex­plains DR CLAU­DINE PANG, Con­sul­tant Eye Sur­geon and Med­i­cal Di­rec­tor at Asia Eye Surgery Cen­tre.

“If we were to com­pare our eyes to a cam­era, the retina is the film with which all im­ages are col­lected,” she says. “When our cornea or lens is dis­eased, we’re able to re­place it with corneal trans­plant or fix it with cataract surgery, re­spec­tively. We have no such re­place­ment for the retina. There­fore, it’s im­por­tant to pro­tect and pre­vent dis­ease in our retina from a young age, since our retina health de­ter­mines our vis­ual health for life.”

One of the most com­mon reti­nal dis­eases, says Dr Pang, is reti­nal de­tach­ment, a con­di­tion that oc­curs when the retina be­comes loose and is pulled away from its nor­mal po­si­tion. Though not painful, it’s con­sid­ered a med­i­cal emer­gency and re­quires im­me­di­ate treat­ment. “While med­i­cal sci­ence has paved the way for to­day’s treat­ments, any de­lay in treat­ment may still lead to se­vere vi­sion loss or even blind­ness,” says Dr Pang.

Early signs of reti­nal prob­lems in­clude blur­ring of cen­tral vi­sion and wavy lines in the cen­tral vi­sion. In the case of pe­riph­eral reti­nal dis­eases like reti­nal de­tach­ment, see­ing floaters (spots that ap­pear in your vi­sion) and flashes of light may be an early sign, ex­plains Dr Pang. “Late signs would be a dark shadow or cur­tain de­vel­op­ing over part of our vis­ual field.”

EYE EX­AMS

Even if you’re ex­pe­ri­enc­ing few symp­toms, it’s im­por­tant to go for eye check-ups, says Dr Pang. “Reti­nal holes and tears, for ex­am­ple, oc­cur at the pe­riph­ery of our retina, so there may be no symp­toms what­so­ever. If un­treated, they could lead to sight-threat­en­ing reti­nal de­tach­ment, which re­quires im­me­di­ate sur­gi­cal re­pair. Those with high my­opia are at par­tic­u­larly higher risk of such reti­nal tears and holes.”

Glau­coma – also known as the “silent thief of sight” – is an­other ex­am­ple with few or no symp­toms in its early stages, as it af­fects pe­riph­eral vi­sion first. “As most peo­ple do lit­tle to test their pe­riph­eral vi­sion, they tend not to re­alise when it’s com­pro­mised,” says Dr Pang. “In ad­di­tion, there are no symp­toms for el­e­vated eye pres­sure, an early sign of glau­coma. There­fore, it’s es­sen­tial to get your eyes screened, es­pe­cially for those with a fam­ily mem­ber with glau­coma, as it’s hered­i­tary.”

Dr Pang be­lieves adults above 40 should have an eye check- up once a year if their last eye exam was nor­mal; once ev­ery six months if a cataract, glau­coma or other reti­nal dis­ease has been di­ag­nosed.

“Dur­ing an eye exam, we check for cataracts, glau­coma, reti­nal dis­eases in­clud­ing mac­u­lar de­gen­er­a­tion and reti­nal tears or holes,” she says. “We can also pick up early signs of hy­per­ten­sion, high choles­terol, di­a­betes and anaemia just from look­ing at the retina. At the same time, we also check for dry eyes, ble­phar­i­tis ( in­fec­tion of the eye­lids), con­tact lens prob­lems, corneal in­fec­tions and com­puter vi­sion syn­drome. We’re also able to ad­dress my­opia pre­ven­tion, treat­ment of floaters and cor­rec­tion of pres­by­opia (loss of ac­com­mo­da­tion).”

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