Retinal Detachment

What are retinal tears and retinal detachment?

The retina is the light-sensitive tissue lining the back of our eye. Light rays are focused onto the retina through our cornea, pupil and lens. The retina converts the light rays into impulses that travel through the optic nerve to our brain, where they are interpreted as the images we see.

The middle of our eye is filled with a clear gel called vitreous (vit-ree-us) that is attached to the retina.

Sometimes tiny clumps of gel or cells inside the vitreous will cast shadows on the retina, and you may sometimes see small dots, specks, strings or clouds moving in your field of vision. These are called floaters. You can often see them when looking at a plain, light background, like a white wall or blue sky.

As we get older, the vitreous may shrink and pull on the retina. When this happens, you may notice what look like flashing lights, lightning streaks or the sensation of seeing "stars." These are called flashes.

Eye illustration which shows a retinal tear, fluid behind the retina and a detached retina.

Usually the vitreous moves away from the retina without causing problems. But sometimes the vitreous pulls hard enough to tear the retina in one or more places. Fluid may pass through a retinal tear, lifting the retina off the back of the eye - much as wallpaper can peel off a wall. When the retina is pulled away from the back of the eye like this, it is called a retinal detachment (RD).

The retina does not work when it is detached and vision is blurry. A retinal detachment is a very serious problem that almost always causes blindness unless it is treated.

What are the symptoms of retinal tears and retinal detachment?

Symptoms of both retinal tears and retinal detachments can include the following:

Floaters and flashes in themselves are quite common and do not always mean you have a retinal tear or detachment. However, if they are suddenly more severe and you notice you are losing vision, you should consult your ophthalmologist immediately.

Who is at risk for retinal tears and retinal detachment?

People with the following conditions have an increased risk for retinal detachment:

How are retinal tears and retinal detachment diagnosed?

Your ophthalmologist can diagnose retinal tear or detachment during an eye examination where he or she dilates (widens) the pupils of your eyes. Some retinal detachments are found during a routine eye examination.

Only after careful examination with an Indirect Ophthalmoscope can your ophthalmologist tell whether a retinal tear or early retinal detachment is present.

How are retinal tears and retinal detachment treated?