Retinal Detachment

What is the retina?

The retina is a tissue lining the back of the eye that detects light. It acts as the camera film of the eye. Light rays are focused onto the retina from the front of the eye. The retina converts the light rays into impulses that travel to the optic nerve and to the brain. The brain translates those signals into the images we see. 

The middle of our eye is filled with a clear gel called the vitreous. This gel is attached to the retina. Sometimes tiny clumps of gel or cells inside the vitreous can cast shadows on the retina. These shadows appear as small dots, specks or strings called “floaters.” As we get older, the vitreous may shrink and pull on the retina. When this happens, you may see what looks like flashing lights or lightning streaks or seeing stars. These images of light are called “flashes.”


What is a retinal detachment?

A retinal detachment is when the retina is pulled away from the back of the eye.  Many things can cause retinal detachments. Trauma, developmental abnormalities in the back of the eye, or problems with the vitreous or the gel part of the eye can all cause the retina to become detached. 

The retina does not work when it is detached from the back of the eye and vision becomes blurry. A retinal detachment is a very serious problem that almost always causes blindness unless it is treated with surgery.


Who is at risk for a retinal detachment?

People with the following conditions have an increased risk for retinal detachment:

  • Nearsightedness
  • Severe eye injury, especially from blunt trauma
  • Developmental abnormalities affecting the retina
  • Previous cataract, glaucoma or other eye surgery
  • Previous retinal detachment in the other eye
  • Family history of retinal detachment
  • Weak areas in the retina

What are the symptoms of retinal detachment?

Symptoms of a retinal tear or retinal detachment can include the following:

  • A sudden increase in size and number of floaters.
  • A sudden appearance of flashes, which are signs of the vitreous (the gel part of the eye) pulling on the retina.
  • Having a shadow appear in the side of your field of vision
  • Seeing a gray curtain moving across your field of vision
  • A sudden decrease in your vision.

Floaters and flashes themselves are quite common and do not always mean you have a retinal tear or detachment. However, if they are suddenly more severe, are increasing, or you notice a decrease in your vision, it is important to call your ophthalmologist right away.


How is a retinal detachment diagnosed?

Your ophthalmologist can diagnose a retinal tear or a retinal detachment during an eye exam where they dilate (widens) the pupil. A gentle ultrasound of the eye may also be performed to help with the diagnosis.


How is a retinal detachment treated?

A retina tear or detachment is repaired with a surgical procedure. The treatment for a retinal tear or detachment depends on the extent of the condition. Based on your specific condition, your ophthalmologist will discuss the type of procedure recommended and tell you about the various risks and benefits of your treatment options.