Retinal detachment

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Retinal detachment describes an emergency situation in which a thin layer of tissue (the retina) at the back of the eye pulls away from its normal position. Retinal detachment separates the retinal cells from the layer of blood vessels that provides oxygen and nourishment.


The sudden appearance of many floaters — tiny specks that seem to drift through your field of vision.

Flashes of light in one or both eyes (photopsia)

Blurred vision.

Gradually reduced side (peripheral) vision.

A curtain-like shadow over your visual field.


The three causes of retinal detachment are:

Rhegmatogenous: The most common cause of retinal detachment happens when there’s a small tear in your retina. Eye fluid called vitreous can travel through the tear and collect behind the retina. It then pushes the retina away, detaching it from the back of your eye. This type of detachment usually happens as you get older. As the vitreous shrinks and thins with age, it pulls on the retina, tearing it.

Tractional: Scar tissue on the retina can pull it away from the back of the eye. Diabetes is a common cause of these retinal detachments. The prolonged high blood sugar can damage blood vessels in your eye and that can result in scar tissue formation. The scars and areas of traction can get bigger, pulling and detaching the retina from the back of the eye.

Exudative: Fluid builds up behind the retina even though there’s no retinal tear. As the fluid collects, it pushes your retina away. The main causes of fluid buildup are leaking blood vessels or swelling behind the eye, which can happen from such causes as uveitis (eye inflammation).

Risk factors

Anyone can usually experience retinal detachment, but there are a number of factors that may put you more at risk. These can include:

family history of retinal detachment

you’ve had a serious eye injury in the past

have gone through eye surgery in the past (to treat cataracts, for instance)

you’ve received a diagnosis of certain eye diseases

you’re extremely nearsighted


Eye disease and general problems with your eyes may put you at higher risk of retinal detachment. These eye issues can include:

diabetic retinopathy (diabetes affects blood vessels in the retina)

posterior vitreous detachment (gel-like fluid in the center of the eye pulls away from the retina)

retinoschisis (retina separates into two layers)

lattice degeneration (thinning of the retina)

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Cataract formation (loss of clarity of the lens of the eye).

Glaucoma (raised pressure in the eye).


Haemorrhage (bleeding) into the vitreous cavity.

Vision loss.

Loss of the eye, although with modern surgical techniques this is a very unlikely outcome.


You can’t prevent retinal detachment, but you can take steps to lower your risk:

Get regular eye care: Eye exams protect your eye health. If you have nearsightedness, eye exams are especially important. Myopia makes you more prone to retinal detachment. Your eye care provider should include dilated exams to find small retinal tears.

Stay safe: Use safety goggles or other protection for your eyes when playing sports or doing other risky activities.

Get prompt treatment: If you notice detached retina symptoms, see your eye care provider right away or go to the emergency room.