I’ve had various responses from people when the subject of my retinal detachment has first arisen in conversation. Responses have varied hugely from a bemused, “You mean you actually lost your sight?” to a slightly accusatory, “How did you manage that?!” to a genuinely baffled, “But I thought that was something that only happened to rugby players!”. Personally, I sometimes wonder if I did something hideously dreadful in a previous life and am now being soundly punished for it. But in answer to the above questions: yes, when the first detachment happened, I did lose most of the sight in my right eye. At the moment, I do have sight in that eye, although it’s extremely poor and I’ve lost a lot of peripheral vision. As to how I managed to detach my retina – I did absolutely nothing at all to cause it. Doctors have assured me that even the flight to Berlin (see How it all began, if you’re wondering what I’m talking about here) did nothing to either cause it or make it worse. The rugby player theory is clearly incorrect, as despite my broad, brawny shoulders and prowess on the sports field*, I’ve never played rugby in my life and certainly have no intention of ever doing so now.
So why, then? Why did my retina detach so suddenly and spectacularly, completely out of the blue? According to the RNIB, retinal detachment only affects one in 10,000 people each year, so it’s not exactly a common occurrence. I had received no blow to the head (unless you count the fact that I cracked it open when I was at junior school); I wasn’t born prematurely (in fact I was a fashionable three weeks late**); I’m not diabetic; and although I’d always been short-sighted, this wasn’t bad enough for it to be a concern in terms of increasing my risk of RD. (Myopia of -6 or more is where this becomes more of a worry.)
The reason for my detachment, according to the detailed notes made by the friendly doctor in the Berlin eye hospital, was a retinal tear as a result of lattice degeneration. The tear had rapidly progressed to a detachment, as the vitreous fluid seeped through the break and pulled the retina away from its place at the back of the eye. Lattice degeneration was also noted as the cause of the two tears in my left retina, which were diagnosed at the same time.
So what is this wretched lattice degeneration which has wreaked such havoc upon my life, and why do I have it? (You see – there’s that wailing, ‘but why’ again!) Well. Lattice degeneration is basically a thinning of the edges of the retina, in a lattice pattern. I imagine it as being a bit like when the heel of a sock starts to wear through, showing the weave of the fabric. As the retina is thinner in the areas affected by lattice degeneration, holes or tears are more likely to develop which can then progress to a detachment as explained above.
Figures vary as to how common lattice degeneration is, but it appears to affect between 6-10% of the general population. Of this 6-10%, apparently the risk of retinal detachment is about 1%. Many people will live in blissful ignorance as lattice degeneration itself is asymptomatic so usually it’s only found as a result of complications such as – ironically – a retinal tear or detachment. Often, both eyes are affected by lattice degeneration, and the risk of RD also increases in the fellow eye following a detachment in one eye. Hopefully, this will help my critics to understand that my fear for my good eye is actually based on hard facts and statistics, rather than ‘negativity’ on my part.
So – why do people get lattice degeneration, and why do I have it? After extensive consultations with Dr Google, it appears that the answer to the first question is that we just don’t know. There doesn’t seem to be a clear answer as to why I’ve got it either, but I’m absolutely convinced that my eye problems are hereditary and it seems from what I’ve read that Dr Google is inclined to agree. My Gran had eye problems and I can remember talk of her having a hole in her retina, although she never underwent retinal surgery. Unfortunately, I’ll never know exactly what the issue was, but I think there’s a strong possibility that lattice degeneration was involved. I’d give anything to be able to have a good old chat with her about it all, but then on the other hand I’m thankful that she didn’t live to know about my eye issues as she would have been hugely upset.
The suspicion of a hereditary link doesn’t end with my Gran, though. My cousin experienced a retinal tear when he was in his twenties, and underwent laser surgery to get it fixed. Fortunately, he hasn’t had any problems since, but again I do wonder whether lattice degeneration was the cause of the tear. He was simply told that he had ‘weak retinas’, and of course lattice degeneration does weaken the retina in the affected areas.
So… that’s why my retina detached the first time – lattice degeneration. As to why the darn thing keeps detaching… well that’s PVR. If you’re interested, you can read more about PVR in my earlier post, The curse of PVR.
*For those readers who don’t know me, I should probably confess that my shoulders are narrow and rather bony, and my only prowess on the sports field was the ability during my school days to always be the last person to be picked on any sports team. I was rather good at running away from the ball, too.
**The first, and almost certainly the only, time I have ever been fashionable in my entire life.