Retinal Detachment

What is Retinal Detachment?

When a person suffers from a Retinal Detachment, it is a serious situation that can cause permanent damage to the affected person’s eye. Retinal detachment means that the retina is no longer connected to the supportive tissues in the eye that hold it in place. The retina is a thin layer of tissue in the eye that sends signals to the optic nerve to be processed by the brain and is light-sensitive meaning it processes light energy and converts it to be transmitted to the brain to form an image.

Because the retina is such an important part of the eye, when it is detached, it can cause major and permanent issues. A retinal detachment means that the retina is no longer connected to the blood vessels that keep it nourished and healthy. The longer the retina is detached, the more nutrient and oxygen-deprived it becomes and the less likely it can be repaired.

Retinal detachment can occur for a variety of reasons. An injury to the eye can cause the retina to become detached. Advanced diabetes can also cause a person to develop eye problems, including retinal detachment. People over the age of 40 are more likely to experience retinal detachment and men are more likely than women to do so.

What are the Symptoms of Retinal Detachment?

One of the first noticeable symptoms a retinal detachment is the sudden onset of floaters. These are spots, specks, or may even look like spider webs, and they move across your field of vision. Some people also see flashes of light in either one eye or both eyes. When a person has a retinal detachment, it can also seem as if they are seeing a shadow cross or block their vision or may even seem like a curtain. Blurry vision, poor peripheral vision, or sudden general vision loss can also be signs of this serious condition.

Retinal Detachment Causes

Retinal detachment is caused by a tear in the retina which usually occurs when the vitreous collapses and pulls on the retina with enough strength to rip it. The vitreous fluid can pull the retina away from its underlying tissues, which contain the choroid, a layer of blood vessels. If the eye’s connection to these blood vessels is broken, this can cause a loss of vision. Other causes include:

  • Sagging vitreous – the gel that fills the middle of the eye. An excess of fluid under the retina can cause the retina to come off the back of the eye.
  • Tears or holes in the retina, which may cause retinal detachment if vitreous gel leaks through a retinal hole and collects underneath the retina. One common cause of tears is posterior vitreous detachment (PVD). Another cause is injury to the head or eye.
  • The retina pulling away from the back of the eye. The most common cause of this is proliferative diabetic retinopathy due to advanced diabetes, the growth of scar tissue that pulls on the retina.

How is Retinal Detachment Treated?

A retinal detachment is considered to be a medical emergency and needs immediate treatment. Surgery is the only way to resolve a detached retina. If the person goes in for medical care as soon as early symptoms start, they may be able to repair holes or tears in the retina before it detaches completely. This can be accomplished through laser surgery.

However, for a fully detached retina, the surgical procedure will be more invasive and may require hospitalization. These procedures may involve draining the fluid that keeps the retina in place and replacing it, using air or gas to push the retina back into place, or a variety of other methods to ensure that the retina reattaches to the blood vessels that keep it viable.

Retinal Detachment Prevention

For the most part, retinal detachment cannot be prevented. There are, however, some precautionary steps you can take to minimize risk or catch it early.

Having an eye exam annually (or more often if you have conditions like diabetes that can cause eye disease) can help your doctor look for signs that you may be a candidate for retinal detachment. You should go to your eye doctor right away if you begin seeing floaters, flashing lights, or have other changes in your vision. Eye exams can catch early changes in your eyes that you may not have otherwise noticed, and treating these issues could fix some problems in the future.

Since injuries to the eye can cause retinal detachment, always wear safety glasses or goggles when playing sports like racquetball, working with tools, or handling firearms and explosives.

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Last Reviewed:
October 09, 2016
Last Updated:
March 30, 2018