Coughs and sneezes spread fear of retinal re-detachments

Okay, okay… I know that’s not actually how the saying goes.  And (horror of horrors) it doesn’t even rhyme!  But ask anyone who’s experienced a retinal detachment, and I’m pretty sure that most will tell you that a violent sneeze or coughing fit causes them a certain amount of anxiety.  So, following my euphoric exit from Moorfields when I managed to restrain myself from kissing two surgeons and a receptionist and practically skipped along the green line to Old Street tube station (taking the necessary care due to dilated eyes, naturally) whilst busily planning exciting things to do in the next six months, I was more than a little hacked off when I went down with a cold three days later.  It was the sort of cold that was likely to be described in a medical letter as ‘a nasty ‘flu-like virus’.  Or even, ‘a gentleman’s cold’.  I’m reliably informed that research has been undertaken which proves that men do actually suffer more than women with colds.  (Hmmm, yes, I’d like to examine this research more closely too.)

Anyway… it was the mother of all colds.  I was knackered; I ached; my throat hurt to the extent that I couldn’t even force down a chocolate biscuit (serious, indeed); and then came the sneezes and the snots, followed by the hacking cough.  Each time I sneezed, coughed, or blew my nose a little more violently than usual I’d close my eyes and then re-open them cautiously, praying that my retinas were still intact.  I know I’m not alone in this fear, as my eye buddies have expressed similar worries about sneezing and coughing.  I remember reading the comments of one poor chap who went down with a cold not long after his vitrectomy surgery and thinking “Yiiiiikes!”.

I wonder why we’re so nervous about coughing, / sneezing / blowing our noses, following a retinal detachment, though?  I’ve never actually been advised not to do any of the above – apart from during surgery itself, and even then I was told, “Just tell me if you need to cough or think you’re going to sneeze.”   Before surgery number four, I frantically blew my nose whilst lying on the bed in pre-op, hoping that I then wouldn’t feel the need to do so during the operation itself.  During surgery number five, at one point I had to admit to the surgeon that I felt as if I was going to cough.  Fortunately, his reply was reassuring: “Now would be a good time to cough.”  So I did.  Very, very gently.

I remember reading in my post-op paperwork from one of my first surgeries the instruction, “Don’t try to hold in a sneeze”, so perhaps it is okay.  I considered googling, ‘is it okay to cough or sneeze following a retinal detachment’, but Dr Google isn’t actually a medical professional and results of such enquiries should be treated with caution.  Perhaps I’ll ask an ophthalmologist next time I speak to one – just for future reference.  In the meantime, I’ll continue my attempts to cough, sneeze, and blow my snout in a delicate and ladylike fashion, whilst simultaneously swearing like a trooper under my breath.


7 thoughts on “Coughs and sneezes spread fear of retinal re-detachments

    1. ejb117 Post author

      Hi Owen,

      I’m afraid I still haven’t actually asked a retinal surgeon this question! I don’t think it would really cause a detachment, but I tend to just try and sneeze and cough gently, just in case! 🙂


      1. Owen

        Thank you for your reply! I don’t think it would either, but sometimes Dr Google has some confusing answer so I am just being curious. I don’t have RD yet but am at increased risk as I have high myopia, lattice degeneration and floaters. So I am being quite cautious in order to prevent RD, maybe a little too much.
        I wish you would be well and thank you for the posts sharing your feelings and experience. I believe it helps quite a lot of people!
        Best regards,

        Liked by 1 person

      2. ejb117 Post author

        If I ever get around to actually asking a retinal surgeon, I’ll let you know! Haha – yes, Dr Google can give some dodgy answers at times… have you read my Dr Google blog post?

        Is your myopia higher than -6? I have lattice degeneration too, and lots of floaters in my good eye. I don’t think floaters are a risk factor for RD though, but of course any changes can be a symptom. I’m guessing you know all the danger signs to watch out for like increased floaters, flashing lights, blind spots, shadows, and the dreaded curtain? I think all you can do is be vigilant but get on and live your life…

        Thank you for your kind comments… it helps me to know that I’m helping others by writing this blog!

        Wishing you all the best,


      3. Owen

        Dear Emma
        Yes, my myopia is -6.50, not very high though but already belongs to the group of high myopia. So it would be better for me to be vigilant I think.
        I developed floaters at the beginning of this April. I was so terrified that this might relate to RD because I have never had floaters before and was in constant fear that I might not be able to finish my postgraduate as there’s just a few months left. I have been frustrated for a while since then and read a lot of posts and blogs about floaters and RD. One of these is yours of course :).
        Went to two retinal specialists. One said my retina is fine and the other one said I have a small area of degeneration in the right peripheral retina. I don’t know which one to believe but I guess it is not a big problem after all and will keep the semi-annual follow-up or even 3 months follow-up if I become anxious again.
        I am now dealing with my anxiety problem which derives from the fear of RD. Your blog is certainly giving out positive energy to me and some of those who are experiencing similar issues out there. I think I am doing better now but still need to keep on fighting. The last April was the most worst one I have ever had. But life goes on, no matter what.
        All the best to you.


      4. ejb117 Post author

        Hi Owen,
        Ah yes – definitely better to be vigilant. However, you’re already doing well in that you know all of this and so will go and get checked out immediately if you get any symptoms. I know this doesn’t help the anxiety, but from a practical perspective it’s good.

        I don’t know if this will make you feel any better but I have read that a lot of people have lattice degeneration without even realising it. It’s possible for your retina to be ‘okay’ even with the lattice. It’s good that you’re having regular checks though. Are you in the UK?

        I hope things will improve for you, and wish you all the best in finishing your postgraduate course!



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