What is Retinal Detachment? 5 Top Symptoms to Know About
Retinal detachment is a rare, but serious eye condition that happens when your retina (a light-sensitive layer of tissue in the back of your eye) is pulled away from its normal position. Retinal detachment often comes on quickly and is an emergency. If it’s not treated right away, more of the retina can detach, increasing the risk of permanent vision loss or blindness. Getting prompt treatment can help protect your vision.
There are many causes of retinal detachment, but the most common causes are aging or an eye injury. Anyone can have a retinal detachment, but The National Eye Institute says you are at higher risk if:
- You or a family member has had a retinal detachment before.
- You experience a serious eye injury.
- You have diabetic retinopathy (a condition in people with diabetes that affects blood vessels in the retina).
- You are extremely nearsighted.
- You have posterior vitreous detachment (when the gel-like fluid in the center of the eye pulls away from the retina).
- You have other eye diseases, including retinoschisis (when the retina separates into two layers) or lattice degeneration (thinning of the retina).
- You have had prior eye surgery including cataract surgery.
What are the symptoms of retinal detachment?
If only a small part of your retina has detached, you may not have any symptoms. But if more of your retina is detached, you may not be able to see as clearly. The American Academy of Ophthalmology points to these symptoms:
- Floaters, or small dark spots or lines, that float across your vision
- Flashes of light in one eye or both eyes
- A shadow appearing in your peripheral (side) vision
- A gray curtain covering part of your field of vision
- Blurry vision
There are three types of retinal detachment: rhegmatogenous, tractional and exudative. Each type happens because of a different problem that causes your retina to move away from the back of your eye.
Rhegmatogenous retinal detachment is the most common type of retinal detachment and can happen if you have a small tear or break in your retina. This type can cause the gel-like fluid in the center of your eye (called vitreous) to get behind your retina. The vitreous then pushes your retina away from the back of your eye, causing it to detach.
Aging is the most common cause of rhegmatogenous retinal detachment. As you get older, the vitreous in your eye may change in texture and shrink. Sometimes, as it shrinks, the vitreous can pull on your retina and tear it. Other things that can increase your risk of rhegmatogenous retinal detachment are eye injuries, eye surgery and nearsightedness.
Tractional retinal detachment happens if scar tissue on your retina pulls your retina away from the back of your eye. The most common cause of tractional retinal detachment is diabetic retinopathy, an eye condition in people with diabetes. Other causes of tractional retinal detachment include eye diseases, eye infections and swelling in the eye.
Exudative retinal detachment happens when fluid builds up behind your retina, but there aren’t any tears or breaks. If enough fluid gets trapped behind your retina, it can push it away from the back of your eye and cause it to detach. The most common causes of exudative retinal detachment are leaking blood vessels or swelling in the back of the eye.
What’s the treatment for retinal detachment?
Depending on how much of your retina is detached and what type of retinal detachment you have, your doctor may recommend laser surgery, freezing treatment, or other types of surgery to fix any tears or breaks in your retina and reattach it to the back of your eye. If you have a small hole or tear in your retina, your doctor can use a freezing probe or a medical laser to seal any tears or breaks in your retina. This is usually performed in your eye doctor’s office.
Learn more about repairing a detached retina.
Since retinal detachment is often caused by aging, there’s often no way to prevent it. If you experience any symptoms of retinal detachment, go to your eye doctor or the emergency room right away. Early treatment can help prevent permanent vision loss. It’s also important to get regular eye exams at least annually. This can help your eye doctor find a small retinal tear or detachment early before it starts to affect your vision.