Retinal detachment is a very serious eye condition that happens when the retina separates from the tissue around it. Since the retina can't work properly under these conditions, you could permanently lose vision if the detached retina isn't repaired promptly.
Who's at Risk for a Detached Retina?
You're more likely to get a detached retina if you:
- Are severely nearsighted
- Have had an eye injury or cataract surgery
- Have a family history of retinal detachment
Retinal tears -- although different than retinal detachment -- are often the first stage leading to a retinal detachment. If fluid from within the eye passes through a retinal tear, that can separate the retina from its underlying tissue -- and that's retinal detachment. Retinal detachment may happen with no warning, but often there are retinal tear “warning” symptoms of flashes and floaters. If treated during the stage of retinal tear and before full detachment, a simple office laser procedure prevents the need for a more serious retinal detachment operation.
If you are unsure about your risk of retinal detachment, talk to your eye doctor.
What Are the Symptoms of a Detached Retina?
A detached retina doesn't hurt, so look for these symptoms:
- Flashes of light
- Seeing "floaters" (small flecks or threads)
- Darkening of your peripheral (side) vision
If you notice any of those symptoms, contact your eye doctor immediately.
How Is a Detached Retina Diagnosed?
Your eye doctor would give you an eye exam, which would include dilating your eyes. That lets them see if your retina is detached.
Early diagnosis is key to preventing vision loss from a detached retina.
How Is a Detached Retina Treated?
There are many ways to treat a detached retina. These include:
- Laser (thermal) or freezing (cryopexy). Both of these approaches can repair a tear in the retina if it is diagnosed early enough. This procedure is often done in the doctor's office.
- Pneumatic retinopexy. This procedure can be used to treat retinal detachment if the tear is small and easy to close. A small gas bubble is injected into the eye (specifically into the clear, gel-like substance between the lens and the retina), where it then rises and presses against the retina, closing the tear. A laser or cryopexy can then be used to seal the tear.
- Scleral buckle. This treatment for retinal detachment involves surgically sewing a silicone band (buckle) around the white of the eye (called the sclera) to push the sclera toward the tear until the tear heals. This band is not visible and remains permanently attached. Laser or cryo treatment may then be necessary to seal the tear.
- Vitrectomy. This surgery for retinal detachment is used for large tears. During a vitrectomy, the doctor removes the vitreous (the clear, gel-like substance between eye's lens and retina) and replaces it with a saline solution.
- Depending on the complexity of the retinal detachment, various combinations of vitrectomy, buckle, laser and gas bubble may be used to repair the retina.
Can a Detached Retina Be Prevented?
Yes, in some cases. Make sure you see an eye doctor immediately if you develop new floaters, flashing lights or any change in your vision. Early is always better than later in treating retinal tears, detachments and other serious issues.
Getting an eye exam can flag early changes in your eyes that you may not have noticed. Treating those changes can help.
You should get your eyes checked once a year, or more often if you have conditions such as diabetes that make you more likely to have eye disease. Regular eye exams are also important if you are very nearsighted, as nearsightedness makes retinal detachment more likely.
Not sure how often you should get your eyes checked? Ask your eye doctor.
You should also use the appropriate eye protection for certain activities. For instance, you should wear sports goggles with polycarbonate lenses while playing racquetball or certain other sports. You may also need eye protection if you work with machines, chemicals, or tools at work or home.