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Retinal Detachment

Retinal detachments occur when the retina, the important light-sensitive layer lining the back of the eye peels away from the inner wall of the eye.

What is retinal detachment?

The retina is the thin layer of light sensitive cells that line the inner surface of the back of your eye like a film in a camera onto which images are focused.  When holes or tears form in the retina, fluid in the eye passes through them causing the retina to peel away and separate.  Sometimes blood vessels can also be torn, causing vision to become cloudy.  Retinal detachments lead to painless loss of sight and if untreated, result in blindness.

What are the symptoms of retinal detachment?

The most important symptoms to be aware of are:

  • Sudden appearance of floaters (tiny specks drifting through your field of vision)
  • Flashes of light
  • Sudden clouding of your vision or a progressive shadow across your visual field

What causes retinal detachment?

Retinal detachments are painless and can occur at any time.  The can occur as a natural consequence of the ageing process of the eye, but are more common in people who:

  • Are short sighted (myopic)
  • Have had previous cataract surgery
  • Have suffered recent trauma to the eye
  • Have a strong family history of detachments

How is retinal detachment diagnosed?

After dilating your pupils with eyedrops in order to obtain a view of the back of your eye, an ophthalmologist will closely examine your retina with a slit-lamp microscope in clinic.  Sometimes they will use an ultrasound device to scan the back of the eye if there is blood inside clouding the view of the retina.

How is retinal detachment treated?

If you have a small retinal tear, this can be treated with retinal laser (laser retinopexy) in clinic to ‘spot-weld’ the tear and prevent it from becoming a retinal detachment.

If you have a retinal detachment, you will need an emergency surgical operation by a specialised Consultant VitreoRetinal surgeon.  The urgency of surgery depends on the extent of the detachment and usually varies from same/next day to within 1 week.  The procedure depends on the type of detachment and may be done awake or asleep:

  • Vitrectomy – the vitreous gel within the eye that has caused the retina to be torn is removed with micro-keyhole surgery. The tears/holes are then sealed with laser or freezing treatment and the retina can be reattached and supported with an internal bubble of gas or oil.
  • Cryobuckle – a piece of silicone sponge is stitched to the outside of the eye to seal and support the tears in the retina.

If you are worried about the symptoms of a retinal tear/detachment, the most important thing is to be seen by an ophthalmologist as soon as possible in order to ensure that your eye can be examined and treatment can be delivered promptly.

If you’re unsure what treatment you should go for, or the above treatments don’t work for you, our team of expert specialists are here to help.

This content has been checked and approved by

Mr Jason Ho  ›

Mr Jason Ho is a consultant ophthalmologist and vitreoretinal surgeon at King Edward VII’s Hospital, with subspecialty interests in medical retina and vitreoretinal surgery

Find your specialist in retinal detachment at King Edward VII's Hospital

If you suspect you have retinal detachment and you’re seeking an expert opinion, you can find the UK’s leading ophthalmic specialists here at King Edward VII’s Hospital. Our consultants are hand-picked for you, making it easy to access the best possible care.

Mr Jason Ho  ›
Special interests include:
Cataract surgery (+ 1) more
Professor James Bainbridge  ›
Special interests include:
Gene therapy (+ 7) more
Mr Saruban Pasu  ›
Special interests include:
Retinal laser (+ 4) more
Mr Danny Mitry  ›
Special interests include:
Cataract (+ 6) more
Professor Michel Michaelides  ›
Special interests include:
Retinal disease (+ 3) more
Mrs Veronica Ferguson  ›
Special interests include:
Cataract surgery (+ 5) more

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