A retinal detachment is a very serious problem that usually causes blindness unless treated. The appearance of flashing lights, floating objects, or a gray curtain moving across the field of vision are all indications of a retinal detachment. If any of these occur, see an ophthalmologist (Eye M.D.) right away.

As one gets older, the vitreous (the clear, gel-like substance that fills the inside of the eye) tends to shrink slightly and take on a more watery consistency. Sometimes as the vitreous shrinks, it exerts enough force on the retina to make it tear.

Retinal tears can lead to a retinal detachment. Fluid vitreous, passing through the tear, lifts the retina off the back of the eye like wallpaper peeling off a wall. Laser surgery or cryotherapy (freezing) are often used to seal retinal tears and prevent detachment.

If the retina is detached, it must be reattached before sealing the retinal tear. There are three ways to repair retinal detachments. Pneumatic retinopexy involves injecting a special gas bubble into the eye that pushes on the retina to seal the tear. The scleral buckle procedure requires the fluid to be drained from under the retina before a flexible piece of silicone is sewn on the outer eye wall to give support to the tear while it heals. Vitrectomy surgery removes the vitreous gel from the eye, replacing it with a gas bubble, which is slowly replaced by the body’s fluids.

Face-Down Recovery After Retinal Surgery

The retina is a layer of light-sensing cells lining the back of your eye. As light enters your eye, the retina converts the rays into signals that are sent through the optic nerve to your brain, where they are recognized as images.

To repair a damaged or detached retina, your ophthalmologist may remove some of your eye’s vitreous (the gel-like substance that fills the inside of your eye) and inject a gas bubble into the eye to take its place. This bubble holds the retina in place as it re-attaches to the back of your eye. With time, the bubble disappears and is replaced with your normal eye fluid.

You must keep your head facing downward or turned to a particular side for up to several weeks after surgery so that the bubble will remain in the right position. In some cases the positioning requirements are full-time, and in others it may be part-time. If you lie in the wrong position, such as face-up, pressure may be applied to other parts of the eye, causing further problems like cataract or glaucoma. To assist you in keeping your face pointed downward, special equipment is available, including adjustable face-down chairs, tabletop face cradles, face-down pillows, and mirrors.