What Is a Detached Retina?

This serious eye condition happens when your retina -- a layer of tissue at the back of your eye that processes light -- pulls away from the tissue around it. Since the retina can't work properly when this happens, you could have permanent vision loss if you don’t get it treated right away.

Who's at Risk?

You're more likely to get one if you:

What Are the Symptoms?

A detached retina doesn't hurt. It can happen with no warning at all. But you might notice:

  • Flashes of light
  • Seeing lots of new "floaters" (small flecks or threads)
  • Darkening of your peripheral (side) vision

If you have any of those symptoms, contact your eye doctor immediately.

What is a Retinal Tear?

Sometimes it comes before full detachment. It usually has the same symptoms. If your retina gets torn, the fluid inside your eye can leak underneath and separate the retina from its underlying tissue. That's retinal detachment.

Go to the eye doctor. She can fix it in the office with a simple laser procedure. If you don’t and it detaches fully, you'll need more serious surgery to repair it.

How Is It Diagnosed?

As part of an eye exam. The doctor will give you eye drops that widen your pupil (she'll call this dilating your eyes). She'll use a special tool to look into it and see if your retina is detached.

Early diagnosis is key to preventing vision loss from a detached retina.

How Is It Treated?

Your doctor has several options:

Laser (thermal) or freezing (cryopexy). Both methods can repair a tear if it is diagnosed early enough. The procedures are often done in the doctor's office.

Pneumatic retinopexy. This works well for a tear that’s small and easy to close. The doctor injects a tiny gas bubble into the vitreous, a clear, gel-like substance between your lens and retina. It rises and presses against the retina, closing the tear. She can use a laser or cryopexy to seal the tear.

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Scleral buckle. In this surgical procedure, the doctor sews a silicone band (buckle) around the white of your eye (she'll call it the sclera). This pushes it toward the tear until it heals. This band is invisible and is permanently attached. Laser or cryo treatment can seal the tear.

Vitrectomy . This surgery is used to repair large tears. The doctor removes the vitreous and replaces it with a saline solution. Depending on the size of the tear, she might use various combinations of vitrectomy, buckle, laser, and gas bubble to repair your retina.

Can You Prevent a Detached Retina?

Sometimes. Get to your eye doctor immediately if you develop new floaters, see flashing lights, or notice any other changes in your vision. Early is always better than late when it comes to treating retinal tears, detachments, and other serious issues.

An eye exam can also flag early changes in your eyes that you may not have noticed. Treating those could prevent problems down the road.

Get your eyes checked once a year, or more often if you have conditions like diabetes that make you more likely to have eye disease. Regular eye exams are also important if you’re very nearsighted. That makes detachment more likely.

If you have diabetes or high blood pressure, keep those conditions under control. That will help keep the blood vessels in your retina healthy.

Not sure how often you should get your eyes checked? Ask your eye doctor.

Wear eye protection if you need it. Try sports goggles with polycarbonate lenses if you play racquetball or other sports that could harm your eyes. You may also need special glasses if you work with machines, chemicals, or tools for your job or at home.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Alan Kozarsky, MD on December 08, 2016

Sources

SOURCES:

National Eye Institute: "Finding the Right Eye Protection" and "What Kind of Eyewear Can I Use to Protect My Eyes."

American Academy of Ophthalmology, geteyesmart.org: "Retinal Detachment: What Is a Torn or Detached Retina?"

American Society of Retina Specialists: “Retinal Disease/Health Series,” “Retinal Tears.”

Harvard Health Publications: “What you can do about floaters and flashes in the eye.”

American Academy of Ophthalmology: “What are Dilating Eyedrops?” “What to Expect When Your Eyes Are Dilated.”

 

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