Retinal Detachment

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A retinal detachment is a separation of the retina (which is the nerve cell layer) from the underlying layers within the eye. The detachment might be small and not dangerous or it could involve the entire retina resulting in blindness if not treated quickly and properly.

Self Help

Symptoms

These are typical signs and symptoms for a retinal detachment.

  • Flashes and floaters. The sudden awareness of bright light spots or streaks and dark moving specks are due to the vitreous traction on the retinal (light flashes) and solid vitreous material or blood (floaters). Note that flashes and floaters can also commonly occur from simple causes, without retinal tears or detachment.
  • Partial loss of vision. Retinal detachments can also proceed unnoticed until a large section of the retina is detached, at which time you may notice that part of your sight is missing (the missing sight could be vision loss from above, below or off to one side). It is sometimes described as a veil, curtain or shade covering a part of the vision.

The detachment might or might not be dangerous. Therefore if you have symptoms of sudden awareness of bright spots or streaks or sudden partial loss of vision you should always see an eye doctor.

detached retina

Causes of Detached Retina

  • Age-related sagging or shrinkage of the jelly-like vitreous that fills the inside of your eye
  • Trauma to the head
  • Scarring within the eye (especially in the case of diabetic retinopathy or chronic eye inflammation such as macula edema)
  • An chronic inflammatory disorder
  • The cumulative effects of age-related retinal tears

Note that people who are nearsighted (myopic) are at a higher risk of retinal tears and detachments due the shape of the eyeball being more oval than round, causing more stress on the retina and a potential thinning of the retina.

See "Drugs That Harm the Eyes" for a description of potentially harmful drugs.

Conventional Treatment

Retinal detachments can be small tears which are typically treated in an ophthalmologist's office using a laser to seal the tear. More serious is a full retinal detachment which can result in complete blindness in that eye unless surgically reattached within 24 hours. This is a medical emergency.

Self Help Tips

Retinal Detachment News

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Related Conditions

There are other conditions which may have similar symptoms or be due to similar causes:

  • Diabetes. "Tractional" retinal detachment may occur in advanced diabetic retinopathy, a complication of diabetes. In this condition scar tissue may form on the surface of the retina, pulling it away.
  • Glaucoma. About 10% of patients having surgery for retinal detachment are found to have glaucoma.1 On the other hand, it is well known that after surgery for retinal detachment the ocular tension does not remain at its normal level and there is a tendency towards glaucoma development.2
  • Floaters
  • Retinal breaks and tears
  • Central serous choroidopathy. Fluid builds up under the retina, causing vision distortion, but also increasing the risk of retinal detachment.
  • Peripheral vitreoretinal disease - this relates to the broad group of conditions involving the retina and vitreous.

Studies and Information

See Research on retinal detachment.

Footnotes

1. C.D. Phelps, T.C. Burton, Glaucoma and retinal detachment, Archives of Ophthalmology, March, 1977.
2. J.G. Sebestyen, MD, et al, Retinal Detachment and Glaucoma, I. Tonometric and Gonioscopic Study of 160 Cases, Archives of Opthalmology, 1962. 3. B. Eliassi-Rad, MD, et al, Elevated intraocular pressure associated with retinal procedures, January, 2015