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The Joys of Aging

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on March 15, 2012

Are you troubled by stiff joints, receding gums and thinning hair? No? Consider yourself lucky or too young to read this column. Here’s another problem to worry about.

On Tuesday, I started getting flashes in my right eye of slivers of light. Then a new floater appeared. I’d had this before, like a little spot that floats around in your vision, but this new one was more annoying, like a hair hanging over my face. I let it go for a day, hoping the visual effects would fade away. But then the next day, I started seeing an occasional dark shadow at the bottom of my visual range. I got alarmed. These could be signs of retinal detachment, a medical emergency.   eye

I found a retinal specialist group right nearby. Their office opened at 8:00 am, and the three doctors were available 24/7 for emergency calls. I phoned on Wednesday morning at 8:05, and after hearing my symptoms, the receptionist said, “Come right in.”

Why can’t all doctor groups be as accommodating to patients as this one?

This is why I pay a lot of money for a health insurance policy that’s a PPO. I don’t need a referral and can go to any doctor I choose.

I downloaded the new patient forms that were conveniently online and filled them out before leaving the house. The office was less than ten minutes away. I checked in and didn’t have to wait long at all to be called. A technician did the initial exam, checking my vision wearing my various pairs of reading and distance glasses, and taking a pressure reading which was fine. Then she put in drops to dilate my eyes.

eye exam      eyeglasses

Twenty minutes later, the doctor examined me. He said I didn’t have any retinal tears or detachments. However, the symptoms are the same. What happens as you get older, is that the vitreous gel inside the eye becomes dense and pulls away from the surface of the retina. When the gel is too thick, sometimes it adheres to the retina and causes a tear. If fluid passes behind the tear, it can cause a retinal detachment. When untreated, this can lead to blindness. Treatment may be done in the office or in the operating room, depending upon the situation.

retina

The doctor said there’s nothing you can do to prevent this problem. It just occurs. I should come in again if I see a cascade of light flashes, a meteor shower of floaters, or have blurring or vision loss in one part of the eye. So I left the office feeling much relieved that I don’t have any tears or detachment right now, but aware that as this posterior vitreous detachment occurs, there’s still the possibility.

I’ll return for an exam in a month, barring any changes. Meanwhile, the floater is annoying but I’ll have to get used to it.

So watch out for these warning signs and add them to your list of What Goes Wrong as you age. Have any of you had a similar experience?

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Coming Friday: I’m guest blogging at Denise Agnew’s site on WRITING IN DIFFERENT GENRES: http://deniseagnew.com/blog

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16 Responses to “The Joys of Aging”

  1. Sounds frightening, and I’m glad it turned out OK. You’ve reminded me that I’m long overdue for an eye exam. I haven’t experienced any problems of this sort yet, but other things like achy joints are letting me know I’m not a kid anymore. Maybe we need a trip to St. Augustine to sip from the Fountain of Youth?

  2. I’ll join you at the Fountain of Youth. 🙂 I just had an eye exam in October and everything was fine, but retinal problems can occur at any time without warning. It is scary.

  3. Glad you had it checked out, Nancy!! I get “floaters” from time to time…usually when I’m stressed out in traffic. Not sure if there is any connection…just sayin’

  4. Susan Peek said

    I get floaters all the time, then a few years ago I began to get flashes of light in my right eye, not a sliver, but a circle flashed briefly and that was it. It continued for several months. I went to the eye doctor and he found nothing out of the ordinary–other than I needed new glasses. Eventually, the circles of light disappeared. Still have no clue what they were or what caused them. I was, however, working at the computer a lot.

  5. Could have been eye strain, maybe, or this process as described above. It’s good that you got it checked out.

  6. Thank God you are okay Nancy. You have the knowledge to know what can go wrong and that makes it scarier!
    I’m glad to hear it, and I hope it stays that way. Floaters can be annoying. Sounds like a large one. Hopefully it will fade away?

  7. The floater isn’t overly large, Mary, just annoying when it drifts forward into my center line of vision but then it moves away. Hopefully it’ll disappear with time.

  8. Theresa Navarro said

    I know exactly how you feel. I’ve had floaters in my right eye for several years. some days are more annoying than others. A couple of months ago, I got floaters in my left eye. Some days it’s like my eyes are playing Pong (70’s era arcade game). with the spots bouncing back and forth. AWWW, the joys of aging!!!!

  9. I guess your haven’t gone away, then, Theresa? I was hoping they’d fade! My cousin said hers may be caused by dry eye and that drops help her.

  10. Betsy said

    Yup, another writer with a sizable crop of floaters. Annoying at best. Worst are the ocular migraines. No pain or nausea, but light flashes at the outer edge of vision. Kinda like chaff pilots expelled during dog fights in WWII. Again, annoying and disconcerting. Occasionally accompanied by dizziness. Then I have to sit.

  11. I never heard of ocular migraines. Flashes of light are what alarmed me and sent me to the retinal specialist. He said my sx are signs of the viscous gel separating. I can see how too much of any visual phenomena could make you dizzy or affect focus. It’s disconcerting but as long as it’s nothing serious, we have to be grateful.

  12. stanton said

    Hey Nancy stan here. Ocular migraines relate too what?

  13. Stan, I’m responding to Betsy’s message. I’d never heard of ocular migraines before. I believe she’s referring to the flashes of light on the periphery of one’s vision?

  14. Linda said

    Some people get ocular migraines as a precursor to the headache and other full migraine symptoms. Some people (like me) just get the visual effects. I’ve been told it’s actually all happening in your brain. Not sure what to make of that.

    I have also had vitreous detachments. The first didn’t do any damage. The second, in the other eye, tore the retina. I went in thinking it needed to be checkout but would be okay like the first one was. No joy. When the doc tells you that you can’t leave the office, we have to do immediate laser surgery on your eye – that’s not a fun feeling. But the surgery itself is painless. Just lots of bright flashes of light. Mine tore badly enough that it took thousands (literally) of pulses to tack it back down. I’ve been back for followups – no more tearing, but I did develop another issue. The macula in the center of my vision bubbled up a bit (also from vitreous pull) so that I’ve lost a bit of fine focus.

    I’m relating all this to underscore the point – if you see flashes or a sudden rash of floaters, GET THEE TO A RETINAL SPECIALIST IMMEDIATELY. Do not hesitate. Pick up the phone and make the call. The vision you save may be your own.

  15. Good to know, Linda. I go back for a follow-up visit next week. Haven’t had any other problems, thank goodness. Your words should be well heeded.

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