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Quick Facts

Detached Retina


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision May 2021| Content last modified May 2021
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The retina is a layer of cells at the back of your eye that's sensitive to light and sends signals to the brain that allow you to see.

What is a detached retina?

A detached retina is one that has separated from the back of the eye. Part or all of your retina may be detached.

  • You’re more likely to have a detached retina if you're nearsighted (trouble seeing far-away objects clearly), have had eye surgery, or had an eye injury

  • Symptoms include suddenly losing vision or seeing flashing bright lights or floaters (dark spots that seem to be moving across your vision)

  • It may seem like a curtain or veil dropped across your vision

  • Doctors can see a detached retina by looking in your eye with a special scope

  • Treatment can usually keep you from losing more vision

In some cases, you may not get vision back. If you have any symptoms, see an eye doctor immediately to prevent permanent vision loss.

Viewing the Retina

Viewing the Retina

What causes a detached retina?

The retina can detach after it tears. Tearing of the retina happens more often when you're older and if you have:

  • Severe nearsightedness (trouble seeing far-away objects clearly)

  • Had surgery for cataracts (cloudiness of the lens in your eye)

  • An eye injury

  • Thinning and scarring of your retina, usually along the edge or little tears in the retina

  • Drying and shrinking of the jelly-like fluid in front of the retina that pulls it away from the back of the eye

  • Fluid or blood building up behind the retina

  • Other diseases that affect the retina, such as diabetes

  • Family members who have had a detached retina

What are the symptoms of a detached retina?

Some people don't have any symptoms. If you do have symptoms, you won’t feel any pain, but you may suddenly have:

  • A lot of floaters (dark spots that aren’t really there but seem to be moving across your field of vision)

  • Flashes of bright light

  • Blurry vision

  • Vision loss that starts at the edges and spreads inward

  • Grayness in your field of vision that looks like a curtain or veil falling across your sight

  • Sometimes, loss of vision quickly

Detachment of the retina usually happens in one eye at a time.

How can doctors tell if I have a detached retina?

Doctors will:

  • Put eye drops in your eyes

  • Look at your retina with an ophthalmoscope

  • Sometimes, use ultrasound to see pictures of the back of your eyes

How do doctors treat a detached retina?

Doctors treat detachment differently depending on the cause. Doctors will fix a torn or detached retina by:

  • Injecting air or gas into the eye to push the retina back into place

  • Indenting the outside of the back of the eye where the detachment is to help reattach it

  • Sometimes, placing a silicon band around your eye (called a scleral buckle)

If your retina has a tear in it, the doctor will use a laser or a freezing instrument to seal the tear and prevent the area from detaching.

Usually, your vision comes back after doctors fix your retina. You might have some permanent vision loss if:

  • Your retina was detached for several days or weeks

  • You have bleeding or scarring in your eye

  • Your macula was detached or injured

The macula is a small area of the retina that has a high concentration of light-sensitive cells. The macula is important for seeing details when you look directly at something.

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