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Retinal detachment

Retinal detachment happens when the retina at the back of the eye pulls away from the blood vessels that supply it.

Retinal detachment is an eye emergency, and left untreated can result in sight loss.

Retinal detachment can be due to normal ageing, or an injury to the eye.

Who's at risk of retinal detachment?

Retinal detachment is considered a risk for the following groups of people:

  • Short-sighted adults
  • People who have had an eye injury or post-cataract extraction surgery
  • People with a family history of retinal detachment

Retinal detachment may also be spontaneous. This occurs more often in elderly people or in very short-sighted people.

What are the symptoms of retinal detachment?

Symptoms of retinal detachment include:

  • Flashes of light
  • Showering effect of floaters (small flecks or threads) in the visual field
  • Darkening of the peripheral visual field

There is no pain associated with retinal detachment, but if you experience any of the above listed symptoms, seek urgent medical advice.

How is retinal detachment diagnosed?

Retinal detachment is diagnosed through an eye examination by an eye specialist.

How is retinal detachment treated?

There are numerous approaches to treating retinal detachment. These include:

  • Laser (thermal) or freezing (cryopexy). Both of these approaches can repair a detached retina if it is diagnosed early enough
  • Pneumatic retinopexy. This procedure can be used to treat retinal detachment if the tear is small and easy to close. A small gas bubble is injected into the vitreous where it then rises and presses against the retina, closing the tear. A laser or cryopexy can then be used to seal the tear. This procedure is 85% successful
  • Scleral buckle. This treatment for retinal detachment involves placing a silicone band (buckle)around the eye to hold the retina in place. This band is not visible and remains permanently attached. Thermal treatment may then be necessary to close the tear. This procedure is effective as much as 95% of the time
  • Vitrectomy. This procedure for retinal detachment is used for large tears. During a vitrectomy, the vitreous is removed from the eye and replaced with a saline solution. It has similar success rates to the scleral buckle

Can retinal detachment be prevented?

Early diagnosis is key to preventing vision loss associated with retinal detachment. It is important to get your eyes checked regularly, especially if you are at increased risk of having eye disease. For example, in diseases with a high incidence of retinal disease, such as diabetes, routine eye examinations can detect early changes in the eye that a person may not be aware of. In addition, good control of diabetes can help prevent diabetic eye disease and blood pressure control can prevent hypertension from damaging the retinal blood vessels.

Regular eye examinations are important for people who are short-sighted, and more prone to detachment.

If you are unsure about your risk of retinal detachment, talk to your optician. They can tell you how often you should have your eyes examined.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on August 11, 2014

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