The retina is a light-sensitive layer of tissue that lines the back of the eye. It converts visual images into nerve impulses in the brain that allow us to see. When the retina is pulled or falls away from its position, it is called a detached retina.
A detached retina may be caused by:
- Eye trauma—damage from blunt or penetrating injuries to the eye
- Fluid getting behind the retina through a retinal break, or due to local infection or inflammation
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Detached retina is more common in premature babies and older adults. Other factors that may increase your chance of a detached retina include:
- Previous detached retina
- Family members with retinal detachment
- Severe nearsightedness
- Holes or tears in the retina
- Cataract surgery and other types of eye surgery
- Scar tissue in the eye, especially if it contracts
- Tumors in the eye
Certain other eye and medical disorders
involving inflammation, infection or vascular disorders such as:
- Severe acute high blood pressure
- Inflammatory and autoimmune diseases
- Blood vessel diseases
Retinal detachment is painless. However, if it is not treated quickly, a detached retina can cause permanent, partial, or total vision loss. If you have any of these symptoms, contact an eye doctor right away:
- Sudden appearance or increase in the number of floaters, which are shapes that float in the eye and are seen in the field of vision
- Brief flashes of light in the eye
- Loss of the eye’s central or peripheral field of vision
- A curtain appears to fall over part of the visual field
- Sudden changes or blurring of vision
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. An eye exam will be done with your eyes dilated. A special instrument called a slit-lamp will be used.
The eye can be examined with an ultrasound.
Treatments may include:
- Cryotherapy or cryoretinopexy—A freezing probe is used to seal the retina back into its normal position.
- Diathermy—Heat is used to seal the retina back into its normal position.
- Laser retinopexy—A laser is used to make tiny burns around the area of detachment. This seals down the surrounding retina, often preventing further detachment.
- Pneumatic retinopexy—A special type of gas bubble is injected into the eye. The gas bubble pushes the retina back into place.
These procedures are often combined with other procedures or surgeries.
- Vitrectomy—the surgical removal of vitreous that is pulling on the retina and causing detachment
- Scleral buckle—the surgical placement of a flexible band around the eye
To help reduce your chance of retinal detachment:
Always wear protective eyewear or goggles when participating in:
- Contact sports
- Activities that involve flying objects
- Any other potentially dangerous activity where the eye can get injured
- Have regular eye exams at least once a year if you are at risk. Depending on your age and risk factors, you may need to see the eye doctor more often.
Contact an eye doctor right away if you have:
- An eye injury
- Any symptoms of retinal detachment, such as flashing lights, floating objects, loss of part of your peripheral vision, or any other change in vision
American Optometric Association
Eye Smart—American Academy of Ophthalmology
Canadian Ophthalmological Society
Facts about retinal detachment. National Eye Institute website. Available at: https://nei.nih.gov/health/retinaldetach/retinaldetach. Updated October 2009. Accessed December 15, 2017.
Retinal detachment. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T113694/Retinal-detachment. Updated June 10, 2015. Accessed December 15, 2017.
What is a torn or detached retina? American Academy of Ophthalmology's Eye Smart website. Available at: http://www.geteyesmart.org/eyesmart/diseases/detached-torn-retina/index.cfm. Updated March 1, 2016. Accessed December 15, 2017.
Last reviewed November 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD, FAAP Last Updated: 12/20/2014