Retinal detachment

Eyes | Ophthalmology | Retinal detachment (Disease)


Retinal detachment is a disorder of the eye in which the retina peels away from its underlying layer of support tissue. Initial detachment may be localized, but without rapid treatment the entire retina may detach, leading to vision loss and blindness. Retinal detachment leaves the retinal cells deprived of oxygen. The longer retinal detachment goes untreated, the greater the risk of permanent vision loss in the affected eye.

Causes and Risk factors

Retinal detachment often begins when the vitreous gel, a thick gel that fills the center of the eye, shrinks and separates from the retina. Called a posterior vitreous detachment (PVD), this is a normal part of aging and can be harmless. Sometimes, though, PVD can tear the retina. Cataract surgery, tumors, eye disease and systemic diseases such as diabetes and sickle cell disease also may cause retinal detachments.

New blood vessels growing under the retina — which can happen in diseases such as diabetic retinopathy — may push the retina away from its support network as well. Many people have symptoms of a posterior vitreous detachment, or PVD, before they have symptoms of retinal detachment.

Diagnosis and Treatment

When the vitreous gel shrinks and separates from the retina, it causes floaters and flashes. Surgery is the only way to reattach the retina. In most cases, surgery can restore good vision. There are many ways to do the surgery, such as using lasers or a freezing probe to seal the tear in the retina.