Detachment of retina

Detachment of retina

Retinal detachment describes an emergency situation in which a thin layer of tissue (the retina) at the back of the eye pulls away from its normal position.

Retinal detachment separates the retinal cells from the layer of blood vessels that provides oxygen and nourishment to the eye. The longer retinal detachment goes untreated, the greater your risk of permanent vision loss in the affected eye.


The three causes of retinal detachment are:

Rhegmatogenous: The most common cause of retinal detachment happens when there’s a small tear in your retina. Eye fluid called vitreous can travel through the tear and collect behind the retina. It then pushes the retina away, detaching it from the back of your eye. This type of detachment usually happens as you get older. As the vitreous shrinks and thins with age, it pulls on the retina, tearing it.

Tractional: Scar tissue on the retina can pull it away from the back of the eye. Diabetes is a common cause of these retinal detachments. The prolonged high blood sugar can damage blood vessels in your eye and that can result in scar tissue formation. The scars and areas of traction can get bigger, pulling and detaching the retina from the back of the eye.

Exudative: Fluid builds up behind the retina even though there’s no retinal tear. As the fluid collects, it pushes your retina away. The main causes of fluid buildup are leaking blood vessels or swelling behind the eye, which can happen from such causes as uveitis (eye inflammation).


A detached retina doesn't hurt. It can happen with no warning. You might notice:

  • Flashes of light
  • Lots of new "floaters" (small flecks or threads in your vision)
  • Darkness or a “curtain” over your vision, including the middle or the sides
  • Your retina could tear before it detaches. A torn retina usually has the same symptoms as a detached one.
  • If your retina gets torn, the fluid inside your eye can leak underneath and separate the retina from its underlying tissue. That's a retinal detachment.


Your doctor may use the following tests, instruments, and procedures to diagnose retinal detachment:

Retinal examination

The doctor may use an instrument with a bright light and special lenses to examine the back of your eye, including the retina. This type of device provides a highly detailed view of your whole eye, allowing the doctor to see any retinal holes, tears, or detachments.

Ultrasound imaging

Your doctor may use this test if bleeding has occurred in the eye, making it difficult to see your retina.

Your doctor will likely examine both eyes even if you have symptoms in just one.

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