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Retinal Detachment - Symptoms

Most cases of retinal detachment begin with a retinal tear. A retinal tear or another eye problem may cause:

  • Floaters in your field of vision. Floaters are thick strands or clumps of solid vitreous gel that develop as the gel ages and breaks down. Floaters often appear as dark specks, globs, strings, or dots. Floaters may also be caused by loose blood or pigment from tears in the retina.
  • Flashes of light or sparks when you move your eyes or head. These are easier to see against a dark background. The brief flashes occur when the vitreous gel tugs on the retina (vitreous traction). These flashes usually appear at the edge of your visual field.

Having floaters or flashes does not always mean that you are about to have a retinal detachment, but you should not ignore these symptoms. Call your doctor to discuss whether you need to have an eye exam.

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If you have new or sudden flashes or floaters, darkness over part of your visual field, or a new loss of vision that does not go away, call your eye doctor or regular doctor right away. Floaters and flashes may be warning signs of retinal detachment. A sudden shower of what appear to be hundreds or thousands of little black dots across the field of vision is a distinctive sign of blood and/or pigment in the vitreous gel and may indicate a retinal detachment. This requires immediate medical attention.

In rare cases, a retinal detachment can occur without warning. The first signs may be:

  • A shadow or curtain effect across part of your visual field that does not go away. Because detachments usually affect peripheral (side) vision first, you may not notice a problem until the detachment has gotten bigger.
  • New or sudden vision loss. Vision loss caused by retinal detachment tends to get worse over time. Sudden vision loss is a medical emergency.

    This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http:// cancer .gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: July 15, 2013
    This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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