Optometrist examing an eye for common eye conditions

Detached Retina

Retinal detachment is a rare but serious and sight-threatening condition that occurs when the retina – the light-sensitive inner lining of the back of the eye – becomes separated from the underlying tissue. This may be caused by a hole or tear in the retina which allows fluid to get underneath. This weakens the attachment of the retina which then becomes detached – rather like wallpaper peeling off a damp wall. A detached retina can also be caused by an injury or may be a consequence of other eye conditions or surgery.

Symptoms of Retinal Detachment

The most common symptom of a detached retina is a shadow or curtain spreading across the vision of one eye. You may also experience bright flashes of light and/or showers of dark spots called floaters, which may blur or distort your vision. These symptoms are never painful.

Many people experience flashes or floaters and these are not necessarily a cause for alarm. However, we would recommend an eye examination for anyone who gets new flashes or floaters in their vision or, if the symptoms are severe and seem to be getting worse rapidly, and/or vision is being lost, you should be seen urgently at your local casualty department. Prompt treatment can often minimise the damage to the eye.

Who is at Risk from a Detached Retina?

Although detached retina affects only about 1 person per 10,000, it is more common in middle-aged people and those who are very shortsighted. If you have a detached retina in one eye, the risk of developing one in the other eye is increased.

Very rarely, younger people can have a weakness of the retina, or it can be detached as a result of a blow to the eye or head. Retinal detachment can also occur as a result of another condition or surgery such as cataract surgery, ocular tumours and diabetic eye disease.

Treatment for Retinal Detachment

A detached retina needs urgent medical attention. The sooner the retina is reattached, the better the chances of regaining vision. With early help, it may only be necessary to have laser or freezing treatment.

This is a simple procedure usually performed under a local anaesthetic. Often, however, an operation to repair the detached retina will be needed. This does not usually cause pain, but the eye will be sore and swollen afterwards. You will usually need to stay in hospital for two or three days after the operation.