by Scott Pautler, MD
What is lattice degeneration?
Lattice degeneration is a condition in which the retina becomes abnormally thin. The retina is a “tissue-paper” thin layer of nerve tissue, which lines the inside of the eye like the film in a camera. In the eye, light is focused onto the retina, which “takes the picture” and sends the image to the brain. Lattice degeneration is most common in near-sighted people and affects about 7% of the general population.
Lattice degeneration appears to be an inherited condition that usually develops in childhood or early adulthood. The eye, which is round like a ball at birth, becomes oval like an egg. The outer appearance of the eye is not usually changed, but the elongation of the eye causes the retina to stretch. As a result, thin areas or “stretch marks” develop in the retina.
Why is it important to know about lattice degeneration?
Lattice degeneration in itself causes no symptoms or loss of vision. It is important because lattice degeneration predisposes eyes to retinal detachment, which can cause permanent blindness. With age, trauma, or inflammation, the vitreous gel that fills the eye begins to condense and pull away from the retina. If the retina has become weakened by lattice degeneration, it is more likely to tear when pulled upon. A tear in the retina allows fluid from the vitreous gel to seep under the retina as the retina detaches. Fortunately, only one in 200 eyes with lattice degeneration ever develop retinal detachment. Usually no treatment of lattice degeneration is needed, but symptoms of new floating spots or fibers should be reported to the doctor promptly. An examination may disclose breaks in the retina, which may be treated in the office with laser. The appearance of a dark curtain or shadow from the side-vision like an eclipse of the moon is an even more serious symptom that may indicate retinal detachment and require major eye surgery to repair.
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