Detached retina: Symptoms, causes, surgery, and treatment

A detached retina happens when the retina peels away or detaches from its underlying layer of support tissue at the back of the eye. The retina is a thin layer of light-sensitive nerve cells at the back of the eye. We need a healthy retina to be able to see clearly.

At first, detachment might only affect a small part of the retina, but, without treatment, the whole retina may peel off, and vision will be lost from that eye.

A detached retina, or retinal detachment, usually only occurs in one eye. It is a medical emergency.

People with severe myopia, those with diabetes, patients who have had complicated cataract surgery, and anybody who has received a blow to the eye are all more susceptible to the condition.


[eye showing retina]
The retina attaches the back of they eye.

A person with a detached retina may experience a number of symptoms.

These include:

Photopsia, or sudden, brief flashes of light outside the central part of their vision, or peripheral vision. The flashes are more likely to occur when the eye moves.

A significant increase in the number of floaters, the bits of debris in the eye that make us see things floating in front of us, usually like little strings of transparent bubbles or rods that follow our field of vision as our eyes turn. They may see what looks like a ring of hairs or floaters on the peripheral side of the vision.

A heavy feeling in the eye

A shadow that starts to appear in the peripheral vision and gradually spreads towards the center of the field of vision

A sensation that a transparent curtain is coming down over the field of vision

Straight lines start to appear curved

It is not usually painful.

[eye trauma can cause detached retina]
Eye trauma can cause a detached retina.

When we see, light goes through the optical system of the eye and hits the retina, like in a nondigital camera.

When the light hits the retina, this produces an image that is translated into neural impulses and sent to the brain through the optic nerve.

In other words, an image focuses on the retina, nerve cells process the information, and they send it by electrical impulses through the optic nerve to the brain.

If the retina is damaged, this can affect a person’s ability to see.

Retinal detachment happens when this layer is pulled from its normal position. Sometimes, there are small tears in the retina. These, too, can cause the retina to become detached.

There are three types of detached retina:

Rhegmatogenous retinal detachment is a break, tear, or hole in the retina. This hole allows liquid to pass from the vitreous space into the subretinal space between the sensory retina and the retinal pigment epithelium. The pigment epithelium is the pigmented cell layer just outside the neurosensory retina.

Secondary retinal detachment is also known as exudative retinal detachment or serous retinal detachment. It happens when inflammation, vascular abnormalities, or injury cause fluid to build up under the retina. There is no hole, break, or tear.

Tractional retinal detachment is when an injury, inflammation, or neovascularization causes the fibrovascular tissue to pull the sensory retina from the retinal pigment epithelium.

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