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What Is a Retina Specialist?

The retina is a thin layer of cells lining the back part of the inside of your eye. These cells receive light, organize the information, and send it to your brain. The brain translates these signals into images, allowing you to see the world around you.

Retina specialists are eye doctors who treat diseases of the retina and vitreous body (watery gel between the lens and the retina. The vitreous body keeps the center of the eye clear so light can pass through your eye to the retina.

What Does a Retina Specialist Do?

Using special equipment, retina specialists examine the retina and the blood vessels that supply it. They perform eye surgery, treat eye cancer and other eye diseases, and care for people with severe eye injuries.

Education and Training

A retina specialist is a medical doctor who has specialized in ophthalmology (the treatment of eye disorders), then further specialized in diseases of the retina and vitreous body. Their education takes over a decade to complete and includes:

  • Four years of college to earn a bachelor’s degree
  • Four years of medical school
  • A one-year internship
  • An ophthalmology residency – three years of clinical experience under the guidance of experienced eye doctors
  • A retina-vitreous fellowship – one or two years of extensive training in diagnostic equipment and surgery used to treat diseases of the retina and vitreous body

Reasons to See a Retina Specialist

Your eye doctor might refer you to a retina specialist if you have one of the following problems:

Retinal tear or detachment

A tear in the retina can let liquid from the vitreous seep behind the retina. Common symptoms include blurry vision, flashes of light, a curtain-like shadow, and the sudden arrival of numerous floaters -- tiny dark spots that drift across your field of vision. A retina specialist can repair the hole so it doesn’t lead to a retinal detachment. 

A retinal detachment is a medical emergency where part of the retina pulls away from the blood vessels that supply it oxygen. It can cause permanent vision loss if the retina isn’t reattached quickly, so you should see a retina specialist as soon as possible.

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Foreign body in the eye

If an object pierces your eyeball, a retina specialist will check to make sure no part of the object remains in the eye. If they find a piece, they’ll carefully remove it.

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Endophthalmitis

This is an infection inside the eye that can cause serious damage. It sometimes occurs after eye surgery or as the result of an eye injury. A retina specialist can inject antibiotics into your eye and take measures to relieve swelling.

Proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR)

Over time, high blood sugar can damage the blood vessels that supply oxygen to the retina. In response, your body may attempt to grow new blood vessels. Unfortunately, these tend to leak blood into the eye and create scar tissue that can pull at your retina. A retina specialist can do surgery to shrink or remove these abnormal blood vessels before they cause further damage.

Wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD)

In this condition, abnormal blood vessels grow under the retina and leak blood, forcing the retina to bulge away from the underlying tissue. This can distort vision or cause permanent vision loss. A retina specialist might inject medications that can reduce growth of these harmful blood vessels.

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Retinal vein occlusion (RVO)

This is a blockage in a vein that normally carries blood away from the retina. The bleeding and swelling that follows can quickly cause permanent vision loss. A retina specialist can provide laser treatments and injections of medications to reduce swelling and damage to the eye.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

American Academy of Ophthalmology: “Seven Reasons to Refer to a Retina Specialist.”

American Academy of Ophthalmology: “What is Endophthalmitis?”

American Macular Degeneration Foundation: “Wet Macular Degeneration.”

American Society of Retina Specialists: “What is a Retina Specialist?”

Cleveland Clinic: “Retinal Vein Occlusion.”

Geneva Eye Clinic: “Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy (PDR).”

Mayo Clinic: “Retinal detachment.”

Mayo Clinic: “Retinal diseases.”

Vitreous Macula Retina Institute: “What is the Vitreous?”

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