Torn or Detached Retina
Retinal detachment is a very serious condition which can cause severe or even permanent vision loss. It occurs when the retina (the nerve tissue that lines the back of the eyeball) becomes separated from the underlying supportive tissues, which prevents the retina from functioning properly.

What is the retina?

The retina is the nerve layer that senses light and sends images to your brain. It is located in the back of your eye. The retina works very much like film in a camera. The lens of the eye focuses light onto the retina and the retina captures the image and sends it to the brain.

What is a retinal detachment?

Retinal detachment occurs when the retina is removed from its normal position. When this happens, the retina does not work properly therefore, causing blurred vision. If not treated immediately, a retinal detachment could cause irreversible damage and even complete loss of vision.  

Illustration of a healthy eye
Illustration showing a retinal detachment

What causes retinal detachment?

The clear gel, or vitreous, that fills the middle of the eye may pull away from the retina in the back of the eye as we age. Usually this doesn't cause problems, but occasionally the vitreous pulls so hard that it tears the retina allowing fluid to pass through the tear and lifting the retina off the back of the eye.

What are symptoms of retinal detachment?

Some common symptoms may include: spots, floaters, flashes of light, poorer vision or a shadow appearance in the peripheral, or "side" vision. No pain is associated with retinal detachment. If you notice any of the above symptoms or believe you have a detached retina it is extremely important to seek ophthalmic care immediately to prevent permanent vision loss.

What treatment is available for retinal detachment?

Most often, retinal tears are treated with laser surgery or cryotherapy, which seals the retina to the back of the eye. These treatments may be performed in our office. Treatment will usually prevent future retinal detachments.

There are several types of surgery available to treat retinal detachments. Our doctors will determine which will be right for you depending on your general health and the configuration of the retinal detachment. These treatments include:

  • Scleral Buckle - A flexible band is placed around the outside wall of the eye to counteract the force pulling the retina out of place. The doctor may then drain the fluid under the detached retina before sealing it into place using a laser or cryotherapy.
  • Pneumatic Retinopexy - A gas bubble is injected into the vitreous space in the eye, pushing the retinal tear closed against the back of the wall.
  • Vitrectomy - The vitreous gel is removed from the eye and replaced with a gas bubble. Your body's own fluids will slowly replace the gas bubble. This procedure is sometimes combined with the Scleral Buckle procedure.
What can I expect after surgery?

Patients can expect mild to moderate discomfort following surgery. Your doctor will prescribe necessary medications to help alleviate pain and will advise you when you can return to normal daily activities. An eye patch will also need to be worn during the first night after surgery.  You will be advised to keep your head in a specific position while the retina heals.  It is extremely important to follow these directions. It is possible that flashing lights and floaters will continue for a short while after surgery. We recommend that you do not fly in an airplane or travel at high altitudes as the altitude can cause a dangerous rise in eye pressure. We also recommend that you have a routine eye exam several months after surgery as a new prescription may be helpful.

It may take months for your vision to improve and in some cases, it may not fully return.
What risks are involved with surgery?

While any surgery has its risks, an untreated retinal detachment poses higher risks such as, severe vision loss or complete blindness. Some surgical risks include:
  • Bleeding
  • Cataracts
  • Infection
  • High pressure in the eye
Although the vast majority of surgeries are successful for repair of a retinal detachment, occasionally repeat operations  are necessary to achieve the optimal outcome.  Some patients may require removal of a cataract (clouding of the lens in the eye) or scar tissue (Epiretinal Membrane) that can sometimes form after a retinal detachment.

Photo of a retinal detachment and tear
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