Retinal Detachment

Separation of the light-sensitive retina at the back of the eye from the supporting tissues underneath

  • More common over the age of 50
  • Sometimes runs in families
  • Participating in sports that may lead to a blow to the eye is a risk factor
  • Gender is not a significant factor

The light-sensitive retina of the eye is normally attached to the underlying tissue, but in retinal detachment part of the retina peels away from this tissue. The condition usually affects one eye only but, without rapid treatment, can cause partial or total blindness.

Retinal detachment usually begins with a small tear in the retina. Fluid is then able to pass through the hole and separates the retina from the supporting tissues underneath. Tears may be caused by disorders such as severe shortsightedness (see Myopia) or eye injuries. In some people, tears appear as a result of scarring after a vitreous haemorrhage. Retinal detachment sometimes runs in families.

What are the symptoms?

Retinal detachment is painless, but its visual symptoms may include:

  • Flashing lights in the corner of the eye.

  • Large numbers of tiny dark spots in the field of vision (see Floaters).

If a large area of the retina has become detached, you may experience a cloudy ring or a black area across your field of vision. If you experience any of these symptoms, you should go to an accident and emergency department or call your doctor immediately.

What might be done?

Retinal detachment is diagnosed by using a special head-mounted ophthalmoscope to examine the eye’s internal structures. If only a small area of retina has detached, the tear may be sealed by laser treatment or cryotherapy. However, if a large area has detached, surgery is necessary. If treated early, normal vision may be restored, but delayed treatment is less effective.

Detached retina

In this view through an ophthalmoscope, the area of detached retina can be clearly distinguished from the normal area of retinal tissue seen on the right.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

Back to top