What Does the Retina Do?

The retina is an essential part of the eye that enables vision. It’s a thin layer of tissue that covers approximately 65 percent of the back of the eye, near the optic nerve. Its job is to receive light from the lens, convert it to neural signals and transmit them to the brain for visual recognition.

Because the retina and optic nerve originate as outgrowths of the developing brain, they are both considered part of the central nervous system and brain tissue.

What is the primary function of the retina?

The eye has many parts that must work together in order to produce clear vision. The retina is made up of ten layers of cells that work together to detect light and turn it into electrical impulses. These special cells are called cones and rods and are known as photoreceptors:

  • Cones
    Cones are located in the central, or macula, part of the retina. These cells help detect color and detail. Similarly, the macula allows us to perform fine functions like reading, writing, typing and clearly recognizing people’s facial details (e.g., freckles).
  • Rods
    Rods are located in the peripheral, or outer, part of the retina. These cells allow us to see in poor lighting and provide us with night vision.

How can I tell if there is a problem with my retinas?

There are many ways to tell if you’re suffering from retinal damage, tears or detachment, including:

  • Sudden onset of floaters (small to large dark spots blocking your vision)
  • Flashes of light in one or both eyes
  • Blurred vision
  • Gradual reduction in peripheral (side) vision
  • Curtain-like shadow over your visual field

How can I treat a damaged retina?

If you believe you are suffering from a retinal tear or detachment, it is important to seek immediate medical attention. Retinal damage that goes untreated may lead to permanent vision loss and blindness. Retinal tears and detachments can be repaired with procedures and surgeries such as:

  • Laser
    A laser makes small burns around the retinal tear. The resulting scar seals the retina to the underlying tissue, which helps prevent further damage, like retinal detachment.
  • Freezing treatment (cryotherapy)
    A special freezing probe applies intense cold and freezes the retina around the retinal tear. The resulting scar helps secure the retina to the eye wall.
  • Scleral buckle
    A flexible band (scleral buckle) around the eye acts as a counter weight to the force that’s pulling the retina out of place. This procedure is performed in an operating room.
  • Pneumatic retinopexy
    A gas bubble is injected into the vitreous space (gel-like substance in the center of the eye) in combination with laser surgery or cryotherapy. This bubble gently pushes the retinal detachment back into place at the back of the eye.
  • Vitrectomy
    Often used in conjunction with a scleral buckle procedure, vitrectomy replaces the vitreous gel with a gas bubble to keep the retina in place. Your body’s own fluids will gradually replace the gas bubble.

Austin Retina Associates has more than 40 years experience performing retinal surgery with excellent outcomes. Call 800-252-8259 to schedule an appointment.