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It was the semi’s second round, and tension was palpable. Two of the NBA’s finest teams were in an intense physical battle to determine who would advance to the Western Conference Finals.

About six minutes into the first period, Houston’s James Harden drove to the basket for a layup and missed, but struggled to grab the rebound. Golden State’s Draymond Green tried to get a piece of it, but in the process, Green’s hand accidentally swung down forcefully into Harden’s face. Unaware, the Warriors and Rockets dashed to opposing side of the court, and Golden State scored – but attention quickly shifted to Harden, who had been left behind, hunched on all fours. 

Green’s smack-down had landed squarely on Harden’s left eye, which turned a volcanic shade of red. Harden heroically played through it, but was on record saying, he could “barely see” for the rest of the game.

Afterward, Harden’s alarmingly bloodshot peeper quickly became the subject of an internet meme. The left eyelid was cut, and blood in the whites of his eyes was visible and disturbing. The diagnosis: “a bruised retina”, not only on the left side, but in both of Harden’s eyes.

Many fans were left scratching their heads – “What exactly is a bruised retina, and how do you treat it?” More importantly, “Would this injury mean the end of Harden’s career?”

Let’s talk bruised retina

The retina, just to review, is the thin layer of cells in the “back” of the eye that captures images flowing through the optic nerve to the brain. The retina is thus delicate, and susceptible to damage.

The proper medical term for a bruised retina is Berlin’s edema, or commotio retinae, a condition classified as “damage to the retina caused by blunt trauma” which can become cloudy and white, leading to blurry or lost vision.

Blunt trauma to the eye sends shock waves from the point of impact. These waves spread across the outer retina, which explains how a poke to one side of the eye can cause a striking redness from corner to corner. 

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, recovery can take three to four weeks. However, visual recovery can be hindered by a variety of factors

So, if the resulting Harden injury was a bruised retina, is there something worse that could have occurred?

Let’s talk detached retina

It comes down to luck and timing – if the amount of force from Draymond Green’s hand had packed more “punch” and/or landed at a different angle, Harden might have experienced what is known as retinal detachment. This occurs when the retina pulls away from its normal position, drastically affecting vision. While a detached retina often occurs gradually with aging, it can also be caused by abrupt physical force. 

Retinal detachment differs from commotio retinae in that it can often be painless – but the longer it is left untreated, the higher the risk of permanent damage. Symptoms such as eye “floaters”, as well as blacked-out, whited-out or blurry areas of vision can occur, and remain permanently, if left untreated.  

In a way, James Harden was fortunate to receive an injury with temporary effect. A more serious blow, and retinal detachment could have warranted some serious medical treatment and possible permanent damage.

If you are currently suffering from a recent eye injury or abnormal vision, don’t wait! Immediately visit an eye doctor doctor/ophthalmologist to receive proper diagnosis and treatment. 

Contributed by Bryan Armetta

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