Retinal Detachment

A retinal detachment is a separation of the retina from its attachments to the underlying tissue within the eye. Most are a result of a retinal break, hole or tear. Retinal detachment is most common in people who are in their 60s or 70s.

A retinal detachment is considered a medical emergency. If you are experiencing symptoms of a retinal detachment, you should see an eye care professional immediately.

Overview and Symptoms

Symptoms can include sudden flashes of light or floaters and a loss of central vision.

Most of the serious retinal problems which require surgery are caused by problems with the vitreous, the clear jelly-like substance which fills the space in the eye.

A posterior vitreous detachment (PVD) happens at the back (posterior) of the eye. PVD happens in most people eventually, and is rarely a problem. With age, the vitreous becomes more fluid, and less jelly-like. As your eyeball moves, small pockets of liquid vitreous can move around inside the vitreous cavity. This movement causes the vitreous to pull on the retina, and, with time, the vitreous can separate from the retina resulting in PVD.

Retinal detachment can be diagnosed by fundus photography, which involves capturing a photograph of the back of the eye, or an ophthalmoscopy, a test that allows your ophthalmologist to see the interior surface of the eye and other structures using an ophthalmoscope. An ophthalmoscopy is done as part of a routine eye examination.


Early diagnosis and repair are urgent since visual improvement is much greater when the retina is repaired before the macula or central area is detached.

Small tears are usually treated with laser surgery, where your surgeon makes tiny burns around the tear to return the retina back into place, or a freeze treatment called cryopexy, which freezes the area around the tear and helps reattach the retina. These procedures are usually performed in the doctor’s office.

Depending on the severity of your detachment, retinal detachments can also be treated with surgery that may require you to stay in the hospital.

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