Upon returning home from the gym Wednesday afternoon, I had two emails from my oldest daughter, sent in the morning her time. Her eye was "being weird" and she was seeing a shadow in the corner of her eye. Before I even read the second email I emailed her back: "Go to the eye doctor! Or the emergency room, NOW! You have a retinal detachment!"
The second email described her symptoms further. It was like when someone takes your picture with a flash, she said, and you see a spot, only the spot doesn't go away.
That just confirmed it for me, especially knowing that her severe myopia put her at risk for a retinal detachment, which can begin with a tear or hole. It's a serious medical emergency. If you ever experience a cloud or hole in your vision, you should immediately seek treatment, or be prepared to lose your vision.
By the time I finally was able to speak to her (she's a teacher, so I can't call her in class, but she can check email occasionally) she'd heeded my advice and gone to the ophthalmologist, the kind of eye doctor who is an actual M.D. They treat diseases of the eye, not just dispense glasses and contacts. The doctor she saw sent her to the hospital, where she saw a specialist who diagnosed a hole in her retina. He scheduled surgery for the next morning.
While I was glad to hear she was being treated promptly, I was still worried. But she's a big girl, and handled her surgery quite well. A good thing—she'll need to have a surgical treatment in the other eye to prevent this happening in that eye.
I decided to invade her privacy and write about this so that any of my readers who are severely myopic—having corrective lenses greater than 6 diopters—will be aware of the increased risk of retinal detachment. Myopia, or nearsightedness, means that your eyes are longer and your retina is stretched and thin. Daughter Number One has extreme myopia—her glasses prescription is at minus 11. People with extreme myopia have a 1 in 20 chance of having a retinal detachment, compared to 1 in 300 for the general population.
I was warned about this myself a couple of years ago, when I was seeing flashing lights. Fortunately, I had no retinal tears, but was told to avoid any sport that might result in a blow to the head. So again, let this be a warning for my readers, who tend to be the book-ish type, and consequently may be the myopic type as well. Despite having had regular visits to optometrists all my life, I'd never been told to be aware of the increased risk for retinal detachment that my extreme myopia predisposed me for. If you wear glasses, but don't know your prescription, ask your eye doctor. Most people with myopia have a correction under 5 diopters (mine is 7.5 in one eye, and 10.75 in the other, with a few degrees of astigmatism thrown in just to complicate things). If you live in Britain, you probably are aware if you have severe myopia—you get free eye exams for glasses, and a discount on your lenses.
The risk also increases if you've had cataract surgery. But anyone who sees flashing lights, an increase in the number of "floaters", or a shadow or veil in their vision should be aware of the possibility of a retinal detachment. This Wikipedia article has more.
And thanks to those of you who read my frantic Tweets and wished Daughter Number One well. Hopefully she'll be back in class in a couple of weeks, avoiding contact sports and blows to the head.