Retinal Detachment

The eye is filled with a gel (vitreous) that supports its shape. The retina is the light-sensitive tissue at the back of your eye. It records visual images and sends them to your brain so you can see. Behind the retina is a thin layer of blood vessels that bring oxygen to the retina.

With age, the vitreous contracts, separating from the retinal tissue. When the vitreous separates, it causes “floaters” to appear. Floaters are small dots or strings that seem to be moving across your field of vision. Floaters are harmless, but they can be a sign that the retina has torn.

As the vitreous pulls away from the retina, it may cause a tear. If vitreous gel seeps through the tear and behind the retina, it can peel the retina away from part of its blood supply. The vision is limited wherever the retina is detached. Retinal detachment can result in decreased vision, even if it is eventually repaired.

If the retina has torn but has not yet detached from the wall of the eye, treatment can create an adhesive scar around the retinal tear. This is like stapling around a hole in the wallpaper to keep it from coming off the wall. This can be done with laser treatment, which uses heat to create the scar. It can also be done with cryotherapy, which creates a scar using cold. Eye surgery is needed to treat a retinal detachment. The type of surgery used depends on the type, size, and location of the detached part of the retina. Timely treatment is successful in over 90% of cases.

Home care

  • Avoid contact sports or strenuous activity before you are treated.

  • If you have had a detached retina and your vision is reduced, your lifestyle will be affected. Depending on how much vision you have lost, you may no longer be able to do some things. If this happens, making some of the following changes may help:

    • Increase the amount of light in your home. This will make it easier for you to see.

    • Make your home safer by identifying hazards that could cause you to trip and fall.

    • Ask your family and friends for help.

    • Talk with other people who have reduced vision. Members of support groups and online forums may have advice that’s helpful to you.

    • Use eye protection when doing activities that may injure your eye (such as using power tools).

Follow-up care

Follow up with your health care provider, or as advised.

When to seek medical advice

Call your health care provider right away if you experience any of these symptoms of a retinal tear:

  • Sudden onset of new floaters

  • Flashing lights, usually in the peripheral vision

Call your health care provider right away if you experience any of these symptoms of a retinal detachment:

  • Sudden blurriness and/or waviness in your vision

  • Sudden onset of a "shadow" or "curtain" moving across part of your visual field.

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