Although retinal detachment sounds extremely painful, it is almost always a painless condition. However, it is a serious problem for your eye health and can lead to permanent loss of vision if not treated quickly and correctly. Fortunately, the signs and risk factors of retinal detachment are easy to identify and a qualified eye doctor can confirm the diagnosis. With prompt treatment there are typically few long-lasting effects from the condition. Wit that being said, it is crucially important to seek help immediately if you suspect you have retinal detachment.

Say Hello To Your Retina

The retina is a thick layer of tissue that lines the back of your eye. It is made up of photosensitive cells; ones that are able to respond to light waves and send a nerve impulse to your brain. The tissue is fed by a network of tiny blood vessels behind it. It is held in place by vitreous gel, a clear gel-like fluid that fills the inside of your eye behind the lens. After sending an impulse, it travels along the optic nerve which connects to the retina in the back of your eye. When your brain receives the nerve signal sent by the retina, it forms a picture and allows you to see.

What Is Retinal Detachment?

Retinal detachment occurs when the thin retinal layer of cells are torn away from the back of the eye and their blood supply. Typically, only a small part of the retina is detached. However, once part of it has come off, the rest is at higher risk of following. Since the delicate retinal tissue is separated from its blood supply, it is without oxygen and nourishment. Therefore, the longer retinal detachment is left untreated, the greater the risk is for permanent vision damage or loss. The severity of its impact on vision depends on what part (or how much) of the retina has become detached. If a large portion or the center of the retina (the macula) becomes detached, the impact on vision will be severe.

What Causes Retinal Detachment?

There are a few possible causes of retinal detachment. The first deals with the vitreous gel mentioned earlier. As we age, the vitreous often shrinks. Occasionally, this shrinkage may tug the retina off of the back wall of the eye. Though this pulling doesn’t automatically cause retinal detachment, it allows eye fluid to leak in behind the retinal tissue. This fluid can then push the retina away from the blood supply and supporting tissue causing separation and eventually detachment.

Retinal detachment can also be caused by injury. For example, blunt force trauma, a rapid change in head position, or a blow to the eye area can cause the retina to forcefully detach. This is an injury sometimes seen in sports with hard contact such as football, basketball, and soccer. It can also be seen following an accident such as a car crash.

Finally, retinal detachment can be caused by other pre-existing health conditions. Advanced diabetic eye disease is a common culprit of causing retinal detachment. Severe nearsightedness can also be a contributing factor to the condition.

What Are Some Symptoms Of Retinal Detachment?

As mentioned, it can be easy to spot symptoms of retinal detachment because of the way it affects your vision. Most patients describe the experience like having a grey or dark curtain drawn over their vision once retinal detachment has occurred. However, some symptoms show up before detachment actually occurs and are valuable warning signs. If you experience these, you should immediately visit your eye doctor. He or she will perform more tests like retinal response tests or even an ultrasound of your eye to determine if retinal detachment is imminent or has occurred. Symptoms of possible retinal detachment include:

  • Rapid increase in number or size of “eye floaters”
  • Flashes of light
  • Shadows in your peripheral vision or decrease in peripheral vision
  • Grey curtain or filter over your vision
  • Sudden, rapid decrease in vision

Retinal detachment should always be considered a medical emergency and should receive prompt treatment from an eye care professional. If you are over the age of 50, have a family member who has had retinal detachment, or are extremely nearsighted, you are at increased risk of developing the condition. However, anyone experiencing the above symptoms should immediately go to their eye doctor for an exam and treatment.

How Is Retinal Detachment Treated?

Fortunately, there are several ways to treat retinal detachment if it is caught early. Most treatments will restore full or mostly full vision when performed in a timely manner. Generally, patients experiencing retinal detachment should be treated within 24 hours to ensure that medical treatment will be most effective.

There are many methods of fixing retinal detachment, but they all require surgical intervention. A few of the methods are explained briefly below:

Laser surgery

This repairs the actual tear in the retina causing separation or detachment. It is a preferred method but is mainly used for treating pre-retinal detachment related to a shrinking vitreous.

Pneumatic retinopexy

This procedure involves injecting a small gas bubble into the eye. The bubble will then float back and push the retina back into place. It is usually accompanied by laser surgery to ensure proper retinal reattachment. Patients with this procedure will usually be instructed to lie facedown for several hours following the surgery to ensure the bubble does not move.


In cryopexy, an eye surgeon will apply intense cold to the underlying tissue behind the retina. This will cause a scar to form that holds the retina in place.

Scleral buckle

In this procedure, a small silicone “buckle” is sutured to the back of the eye. This causes an indention to form and allows the retina to reattach.

The proper method of treating your retinal detachment depends on the severity and position of it. Therefore, a licensed eye doctor should assess your condition and determine the best course of treatment for your specific case.