Retinal Tear

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 send oxygen to the retina.

With age, the vitreous contracts, separating from the retinal tissue. When the vitreous separates it causes “floaters” to appear gradually. (Floaters are small dots or strings that seem to be moving across your field of vision.) Floaters are harmless.

Sometimes, when the vitreous pulls away from the retina it can cause a tear in the retina. If this happens, you will experience a sudden onset of many floaters, which may occur with flashes of light. A retinal tear is painless, but is a serious condition. If not treated, most retinal tears will progress to retinal detachment within days or weeks. Retinal detachment is also painless, but it causes vision loss which is permanent.

Eye surgery is necessary to treat a retinal tear and prevent it from progressing to a retinal detachment. The methods commonly used are laser surgery or freezing. They may be done as outpatient procedures. Healing takes about two weeks.

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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