Detached retina: Symptoms, causes, surgery, and treatment (2023)

A detached retina happens when the retina peels away or detaches from its underlying layer of support tissue at the back of the eye. The retina is a thin layer of light-sensitive nerve cells. People need a healthy retina to be able to see clearly.

At first, detachment might only affect a small part of the retina. Without treatment, however, the whole retina can peel off, and a person risks losing the vision from that eye.

A detached retina, or retinal detachment, is a medical emergency.

Various factors increase the risk of a detached retina, including severe myopia, diabetes, previous eye surgery, and an injury that affects the eye.

In this article, read about the symptoms of a detached retina, why it happens, and the treatment options.

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A person with a detached retina may experience the following symptoms:

  • Photopsia, or sudden, brief flashes of light outside the central part of their vision, called peripheral vision, especially when the eye moves.
  • A sudden increase in the number of floaters — debris in the eye that looks like strings of transparent bubbles or rods that follow the field of vision as the eyes turn.
  • A shadow that appears in the peripheral vision and gradually spreads towards the center of the field of vision.
  • A sensation that a transparent curtain is coming down over the field of vision.

A detached retina is not usually painful.

Retinoschisis is another condition that can affect the retina and vision. Find out more here.

Retinal detachment happens when a part of the eye that is responsible for creating images pulls away from the back of the eye. It can result from an injury, inflammation, damage, or structural changes that affect the eye over time.

(Video) Retinal Detachment | Types, Risk Factors, Pathophysiology, Signs & Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment

The retina is the layer of tissue that lines the inside of the eye. It is light-sensitive and sends visual signals to the brain through the optic nerve. When the eye sees, light goes through the optical system of the eye and hits the retina. This produces an image that the retina translates into neural impulses that it sends to the brain through the optic nerve.

In other words, an image focuses on the retina, nerve cells process the information, and they send it by electrical impulses to the brain.

Damage to the retina can affect a person’s ability to see.

Retinal detachment happens when this layer pulls away from its usual position. Sometimes, small tears in the retina can cause detachment.

The macula is the part of the retina that is responsible for vision. In retinal detachment, the macula may or may not become detached. If it does, there is a higher chance of central vision loss.

Types of detached retina

There are three types of detached retina:

Rhegmatogenous retinal detachment

This is a break, tear, or hole in the retina. This hole allows liquid to pass from the vitreous space into the space between the sensory retina and the retinal pigment epithelium. The pigment epithelium is the pigmented cell layer just outside the neurosensory retina.

Secondary retinal detachment

Also known as exudative or serous retinal detachment, this happens when fluid builds up under the retina due to inflammation, blood vessel problems, or injury. There is no hole, break, or tear.

Tractional retinal detachment

This is when an injury, inflammation, or the formation of new blood vessels causes the fibrovascular tissue to pull the sensory retina from the retinal pigment epithelium.

Surgery is often necessary to find any retinal breaks, seal them, and relieve traction, or pulling. Without surgery, there is a high risk of total vision loss.

(Video) Retinal Detachment Symptoms and Treatment | How Retinal Detachment is Treated

Options for surgery include the following:

Scleral buckle surgery

In the area where the retina has detached, the surgeon will attach a tiny flexible band of silicone rubber or sponge onto the sclera, outside the white of the eye. The band pushes the sides of the eye toward the retina, which helps it attach.

They may use freezing, known as cryopexy, or laser therapy to carry out other repairs.

The doctor will use anesthetic to carry out this surgery and they will do the surgery in the operating room.

After the procedure, the person can expect:

  • to feel some soreness in the eye
  • to wear an eye patch for the first day or so
  • to avoid activities such as heavy lifting until healing is complete

The doctor will check the eye’s progress in a follow-up appointment.

Pneumatic retinopexy

A surgeon may use this if the detachment is uncomplicated.

The doctor will:

  • inject some fluid to numb the eye
  • use a small needle to remove some fluid from the eye
  • inject an air or gas bubble into the eye
  • use laser or cryopexy to make any necessary repairs

The bubble will hold the retina in place as the layers start working together to remove the fluid. After some days, the pressure from the bubble will cause the retina to reattach to the wall of the back of the eye.

After surgery, the person can expect to:

  • see the bubble in the side of their vision until it disappears
  • hold their head in a particular way for some days to keep the bubble in place
  • avoid flying and heavy lifting

The bubble will disappear over time.


This is similar to pneumatic retinopexy.

A surgeon will:

  • numb the eye
  • remove the vitreous gel from the eye
  • insert a gas or silicone oil bubble to hold the retina in place

A gas bubble will disappear in time. If the surgeon uses silicone oil, they will remove it later in another procedure. It takes longer to perform than pneumatic retinopexy and will likely take place in a hospital rather than a doctor’s office.

How successful is surgery?

The National Eye Institute estimates that around 90% of treatments for retinal detachment are successful, although some people will need further treatment.

There is a small risk of complications after surgery. These are usually temporary but include:

(Video) Retinal Detachment Causes, Symptoms and Treatments

  • allergies to medications
  • bleeding in the eye
  • double vision
  • glaucoma
  • eye infection

The person’s vision should return 4–6 weeks after treatment, but if the macula becomes detached, the person’s sight may never be as clear as before.

Some people develop cataracts, as these can occur after any eye surgery.

Sometimes, it is not possible to reattach the retina, and the person’s vision will continue to deteriorate. If the detachment has been present for some time, the person is less likely to recover their vision. For this reason, it is best to seek treatment within a week of detachment occurring.

The outlook for a person with retinal detachment will depend on the reason for the detachment, the type of detachment, the extent of the damage, and whether or not the macula remains attached.

If the macula remains attached, some statistics suggest that 83% of people will have 20/40 vision or better after treatment. If it does not, figures show that 37% of people will recover 20/50 vision as long as they have surgery within the first week.

In around 8–10% of cases, the repair will not be successful due to proliferative retinopathy. This is scarring that happens as additional cells form and develop unwanted membranes as the body attempts to save the retina. The membranes can contract, causing the retina to shrink and pull away again from the back of the eye.

The cost of surgery for retinal detachment depends on the type of procedure and where the surgery takes place.

Attending regular eyesight tests can help to reduce the risk of retinal detachment, as eye exams can sometimes detect eye conditions such as detached retina in the early stages. It may also detect conditions that could lead to future retinal issues.


(Video) Life After Retinal Detachment Surgery

If a doctor suspects retinal detachment, they will usually refer the person to an eye specialist, or ophthalmologist, for a precise diagnosis.

The ophthalmologist will examine the eye after dilating, or widening, the pupils with eye drops.

They may also carry out imaging tests, for more detail, such as an ultrasound scan or an optical coherence tomography scan.

Many factors can increase the risk of developing retinal detachment. They include:

  • genetic factors, as retinal detachment can sometimes occur in family clusters
  • being male
  • having severe nearsightedness
  • previous eye surgery
  • previous retinal detachment in the other eye
  • trauma — for example, a blow to the eye
  • diabetes, especially if it is hard to manage
  • cancer that has spread to the eye
  • infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, toxoplasmosis, and syphilis
  • pre-eclampsia, which involves very high blood pressure and can occur during pregnancy
  • having an organ transplant
  • various eye conditions, such as retinopathy, lattice degeneration, and retinal vein occlusion
  • structural features that affect the eye — for instance, enclosed ora bays

If a person has any of these risk factors, an ophthalmologist can help them understand if there is a risk of a retinal detachment.

A person can experience a detached retina if there is damage to the eye — for example, because of an injury or eye condition.

Warning signs include flashing lights in the eye, a sudden increase in floaters, and vision loss, often starting from the outside and moving inward. If these symptoms occur, the person should seek help as soon as possible because permanent vision loss can result if they do not get treatment.

Most people who experience retinal detachment will need surgery. A doctor will use precision instruments to make repairs and may insert a bubble to help the retina reattach.


What causes the specific symptoms of a detached retina? ›

Rhegmatogenous (reg-ma-TODGE-uh-nus).

This fluid builds up and causes the retina to pull away from underlying tissues. The areas where the retina detaches lose their blood supply and stop working, causing you to lose vision. The most common cause of rhegmatogenous detachment is aging.

What is the most common symptom of retinal detachment? ›

But if more of your retina is detached, you may not be able to see as clearly as normal, and you may notice other sudden symptoms, including: A lot of new floaters (small dark spots or squiggly lines that float across your vision) Flashes of light in one eye or both eyes.

What are the three causes of retinal detachment? ›

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. ...
  • Tractional: Scar tissue on the retina can pull it away from the back of the eye. ...
  • Exudative: Fluid builds up behind the retina even though there's no retinal tear.
8 Feb 2021

What is the best treatment for a detached retina? ›

If your retina has detached, you'll need surgery to repair it, preferably within days of a diagnosis. The type of surgery your surgeon recommends will depend on several factors, including how severe the detachment is. Injecting air or gas into your eye.

Do symptoms come and go with detached retina? ›

Some people may brush off symptoms, reasoning that since they're not in pain there isn't a problem. But that isn't the case. Leading up to the retinal detachment, many people notice that their peripheral vision gradually begins to go. This may happen over the course of days or weeks.

Can stress cause your retina to detach? ›

The simple answer is no, stress cannot cause retinal detachment. Retinal detachment is due to tears in the peripheral retina. Retinal detachment occurs in less than 1 in 10,000 people and can occur at any age but is more likely to affect people over age 40.

What makes you high risk for retinal detachment? ›

Certain factors can increase your risk for developing a retinal tear or detachment: Extreme nearsightedness (high myopia) Previous cataract surgery. Severe eye injury.

How long do symptoms of retinal detachment last? ›

Your eye may be uncomfortable for several weeks, particularly if a scleral buckle has been used. Your vision will be blurry – it may take some weeks or even three to six months for your vision to improve.

What are the warning signs of a detached retina? ›

Detached retina (retinal detachment)
  • dots or lines (floaters) suddenly appear in your vision or suddenly increase in number.
  • you get flashes of light in your vision.
  • you have a dark "curtain" or shadow moving across your vision.
  • your vision gets suddenly blurred.

What vitamin helps retinal detachment? ›

Zinc, lutein, zeaxanthin, and omega-3 fatty acids also play an important role: Vitamin A — In order to see the full spectrum of light, your eye needs to produce certain pigments for the photoreceptor cells in your retina to work properly. If you are deficient in vitamin A, the production of these pigments stops.

Can you stop retinal detachment? ›

Preventive retinal tear repair

Repair of any tear that is present in order to prevent retinal detachment may be done by laser photocoagulation or cryopexy.

How long is recovery for detached retina? ›

You will need 2 to 4 weeks to recover before returning to your normal activities. This care sheet gives you a general idea about how long it will take for you to recover. But each person recovers at a different pace. Follow the steps below to get better as quickly as possible.

How successful is surgery for detached retina? ›

The success rate for retinal detachment surgery is approximately 90% with a single operation. This means that 1 in 10 people (10%) will need more than one operation. The reasons for this are new tears forming in the retina or the eye forming scar tissue which contracts and pulls off the retina again. 2.

Can you live a normal life after retinal detachment? ›

Living with the effects of retinal detachment can be daunting at first. Treatment is available, but its success can depend on how quickly it happens – and how much damage has already occurred. However, most people live independently with a good level of vision following retinal detachment surgery.

Can you get your vision back after a detached retina? ›

Vision may take many months to improve and in some cases may never fully return. Unfortunately, some patients, particularly those with chronic retinal detachment, do not recover any vision. The more severe the detachment, and the longer it has been present, the less vision may be expected to return.

Can high blood pressure cause a retinal tear? ›

High blood pressure can damage blood vessels in the retina. The retina is the layer of tissue at the back part of the eye. It changes light and images that enter the eye into nerve signals that are sent to the brain. Damage to the retina from high blood pressure is called hypertensive retinopathy.

How common is a detached retina? ›

The risk of retinal detachment in otherwise normal eyes is around 5 in 100,000 per year. Detachment is more frequent in the middle-aged or elderly population with rates of around 20 in 100,000 per year. The lifetime risk in normal eyes is about 1 in 300.

At what age does retinal detachment occur? ›

Aging and Retinal Detachment

Retinal detachment is more common in people age 50 and over. The average age of retinal detachment diagnosis in the United States is 57 for males and 62 for females, according to the American Optometric Association.

When is it too late to repair a detached retina? ›

If possible, the surgery should be done the same day if the detachment has not affected the central vision area (the macula). This can help prevent further detachment of the retina. It also will increase the chance of preserving good vision. If the macula detaches, it is too late to restore normal vision.

How long does retina surgery take? ›

The operation usually takes about 90 minutes. Your surgeon can repair any tears or holes using a laser or by freezing treatment. Retinal detachment surgery can involve the following techniques.

How long does it take for sight to return after detached retina surgery? ›

When vision improves it is gradual. In fact complete healing after retinal surgery often takes 6 months. In most cases, the visual acuity at 6 months will be the final vision. There is normal swelling of the eye after retina surgery, which initially, will limit the vision.

How can I make my retina stronger? ›

How to Improve the Health of the Retina
  1. Healthy and balanced diet. ...
  2. Avoiding unhealthy foods and drinks. ...
  3. Drinking plenty of water. ...
  4. Regular exercise. ...
  5. Wearing sunglass when out in the sun. ...
  6. Quitting smoking. ...
  7. Wearing eye protection. ...
  8. Regular eye check-up.

How do you keep your retina strong? ›

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help support your retinal health:
  1. Regular dilated eye exams. ...
  2. Eat plenty of vitamin and nutrient-rich foods. ...
  3. Quit smoking. ...
  4. Control blood sugar, pressure and cholesterol. ...
  5. Know your family history. ...
  6. Protect your eyes from UV rays.
29 Jun 2022

Does vitamin D affect the retina? ›

Being deficient in Vitamin D can also have a negative impact on eye health. Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with conditions such as age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, uveitis, dry eye syndrome and impaired tear function.

Do all retinal detachment require surgery? ›

Retinal detachment is a medical emergency, and early treatment is important to protect your vision. If you have a retinal detachment, you may need surgery to reattach your retina to the back of your eye within a few days.

Are you put to sleep for retinal detachment surgery? ›

Most retinal surgery is performed while you are awake. Retinal surgery is usually painless and performed while you remain awake and comfortable. Advances in technology have decreased the length of surgery making outpatient eye surgery possible.

Can I walk after retinal detachment surgery? ›

You should avoid exercising for at least 2 weeks following your surgery. You may resume normal activities, little by little. After week 1, you may start by walking as much as a mile. You may advance to 2 miles, in the second week and can typically run by week six.

What are the warning signs of a detached retina? ›

Detached retina (retinal detachment)
  • dots or lines (floaters) suddenly appear in your vision or suddenly increase in number.
  • you get flashes of light in your vision.
  • you have a dark "curtain" or shadow moving across your vision.
  • your vision gets suddenly blurred.

What mimics a detached retina? ›

Posterior vitreous detachment (PVD) is the separation of the posterior hyaloid face of the vitreous body from the neurosensory retina. The importance of PVD is that it is common but its symptoms and signs may mimic those of a retinal detachment.

What can be mistaken for retinal detachment? ›

Retinoschisis. Like central retinal vein occlusion, peripheral retinoschisis shares similar indications with another condition. In this instance, it is that peripheral retinoschisis gets misdiagnosed as retinal detachment.

Can a slightly detached retina heal itself? ›

A detached retina won't heal on its own. It's important to get medical care as soon as possible so you have the best odds of keeping your vision. Any surgical procedure has some risks.

How long is retina surgery? ›

Retina surgery usually lasts between 45 minutes and three hours.

How long do symptoms of retinal detachment last? ›

Your eye may be uncomfortable for several weeks, particularly if a scleral buckle has been used. Your vision will be blurry – it may take some weeks or even three to six months for your vision to improve.

What age does retinal detachment occur? ›

Aging and Retinal Detachment

Retinal detachment is more common in people age 50 and over. The average age of retinal detachment diagnosis in the United States is 57 for males and 62 for females, according to the American Optometric Association.


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