Dr. Trembush and Dr. Stout, Editorial Author

Pain often absent in presence of eye issues

Q: My mother just had a retinal detachment, requiring emergency eye surgery. She is doing pretty well, but we are baffled how this could happen and she had no pain or warning of her near loss of eyesight.

A: I am glad she is recovering well, but her case is very typical. We are constantly trying to educate our patients that most eye problems cause absolutely no pain at all. We try to stress the importance of regular preventive eye exams, and the critical nature of calling your eye doctor if you have any sudden change in your vision.

Nonetheless, we unfortunately see this sort of case frequently. Whether it is the case of the elementary school child with lazy eye, or the 40 year old executive with glaucoma, or the 60 year old with a retinal detachment, or even the 70 year old with macular degeneration, these eye disorders all develop with absolutely no pain at all. As a rule, waiting for eye pain or eye discomfort to decide about seeing your eye doctor is just a bad idea.

It is true that some eye disorders will give “warning signs,” but these can be subtle or hard to detect. For instance, if you develop blurry vision in one eye, oftentimes you will not notice right away because our brain will “ignore” the blurry eye, and “use” the good eye. This is why children generally do not complain about a vision problem like “lazy eye.” The same thing can happen with older adults developing macular degeneration: One eye loses some sharpness of vision, but the brain emphasizes the better eye.

Retinal detachments, like you mother had, can give some warning too. Often, but no always, you may notice “floaters” in your vision — tiny specks or cobwebs in your vision that seem to move with your eye movements. Sometimes people notice an area of vision that looks cloudy or foggy, or like they are looking through wax paper, but the center remains clear. These are all warning signs of a change in the retina, often a detachment.

The bottom line: if you have any sudden change in your vision, see your eye doctor immediately. Do not wait it out, hoping it will get better on its own. Many of these eye problems require immediate treatment, as with your mother. Delaying the diagnosis and treatment can result in losing some, or all, of the sight in your eye/s forever.

DR. THOMAS STOUT, OD, FAAO is an eye physician in private practice at Morgantown Eye Associates. Info: MorgantownEye.com.