What is retinal detachment?

Retinal Detachment

Retinal detachment: Overview

The retina is a thin nerve membrane in the back of your eye. It detects light entering the eye. Then it sends signals to your brain about what the eye sees.

Retinal detachment means the retina has separated from the wall of the eye. This can lead to severe vision loss or blindness.

Surgery can reattach your retina. The sooner it's done, the better chance you'll be able to see well again.

Retinal detachment

Retinal detachment means that the retina—a thin layer of nerve tissue at the back of your eye—has detached, or pulled away. This can lead to vision loss and blindness.

A retina can detach as a result of aging, an eye injury, inflammation, or some diseases such as diabetes. But many times there is no obvious cause.

Retinal detachment requires care right away. Surgery is the only way to reattach the retina.

What are the symptoms of retinal detachment?

Many people see floaters and flashes of light before they have symptoms of retinal detachment. Floaters and flashes don't always mean that you will have a retinal detachment. But they may be a warning sign, so it's best to be checked by a doctor right away.

How is retinal detachment treated?

Surgery is the only way to reattach the retina. There are many ways to do the surgery. They include using lasers, air bubbles, or a freezing probe to seal a tear in the retina and reattach the retina. This condition needs treatment right away. Without treatment, vision loss can become severe.

How is retinal detachment diagnosed?

To diagnose retinal detachment, your doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms. You will be asked about your past eye problems and risk factors. The doctor will also test your near and distance vision (visual acuity) and side (peripheral) vision. These routine vision tests don't find retinal detachment itself. But they can find problems that could lead to or result from retinal detachment.

A doctor can usually see a retinal tear or detachment while checking the retina using ophthalmoscopy. This test allows the doctor to see inside the back of the eye using a magnifying tool with a light.

If a retinal tear or detachment involves blood vessels in the retina, you may have bleeding in the middle of the eye. In these cases, your doctor can view the retina using ultrasound or optical coherence tomography. These are tests that use sound or light waves to see the retina.

How can you care for yourself when you have retinal detachment?

Follow any instructions from your doctor. You may need to rest and sleep with your head in a certain position. You may also need to wear an eye patch or use eyedrops. Ask your doctor if it's okay to travel by plane.

What causes retinal detachment?

Retinal detachment is caused by:

  • Tears or holes in the retina. A tear in the retina is the most common cause of retinal detachment. These tears can happen when fluids collect under the retina. Tears can also be caused by posterior vitreous detachment (PVD), when the vitreous gel shrinks and separates from the retina. An eye or head injury or other eye disorders may also cause these tears or holes.
  • Traction on the retina. If tissue builds up between the vitreous gel and the retina, it can pull the retina away from the back of the eye. The pulling is called traction.
  • Fluid buildup under the retina. This fluid buildup can cause the retina to come off the back of the eye. Fluid buildup may be caused by inflammation or disease in the retina, in the layer just beneath the retina (choroid), in blood vessels, or in tissues in the eye.

Detached Retina

A detached retina

The retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) is a layer of support cells that lines the back of the eye. It is normally attached to the sensory retina layer.

In retinal detachment caused by a retinal tear, the sensory retina is pulled away from the RPE because fluid builds up between the two layers. Part or all of the retina comes off (detaches from) the back of the eye.

Blurred and lost vision can occur.

Retinal detachment: When to call

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have vision changes.
  • You see new flashes of light.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You see new or worse floaters.
  • You do not get better as expected.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.