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Retinal Detachment

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Retinal detachment is an emergency condition that requires immediate medical treatment. If left untreated, it could lead to vision loss and blindness. Thus, retinal detachment should be treated within 24 to 72 hours of detachment.

What is Retinal Detachment?

Retinal detachment is an eye disorder where the retina peels away from the supportive layer of tissue. The retina is a light-sensitive tissue present at the back of the eye. The cornea, pupil and lens help focus the light on the retina. This light is converted into the impulses sent to the brain by the retina. Thus, enabling one to see.

If you look at the structure of the eye, you will find the middle of the eye is filled with a clear gel called the vitreous. This gel is attached to the retina and at times small clumps of the vitreous often cast a shadow on the retina. This why you often see small dots, specks or clouds float in your field of vision. These are those mysterious floaters that you see when looking at a wall or closing your eyes.

With age, the vitreous fluids can shrink and mostly moves away from the retina without causing any problems. If it pulls out hard enough, it can cause a retinal tear in one or more places. This causes the retina to move away from the back of the eye causing retinal detachment.

One will find their vision suddenly turns blurry and if not treated soon, it will lead to permanent loss of vision.


The symptoms of retinal detachment are very easy to notice. These symptoms appear before the retina has detached or has reached an advanced stage. Some of these symptoms include:

  • Sudden appearance of floaters before the eyes
  • Sudden light flashes in the affected eye
  • A shadow on a part of the field of vision that develops as the detachment advances


The causes of retinal detachment include:

  • Shrinkage of vitreous fluid causing retinal tears and subsequent detachment
  • Eye injury
  • Advanced stage of diabetes
  • Inflammation or inflammatory eye disorder
  • Aging, very common in people over the age of 40 years

Diagnostic Tests

If you observe any changes in vision or sudden floaters and light flashes before your eyes, visit the ophthalmologists immediately. The doctor will check your eyes with the help of an ophthalmoscope to detect any tears, holes or detachments on the retina.


When the ophthalmologists finds the retina has not yet detached from the eye, he/she will suggest procedures that are carried out on an outpatient basis. These procedures will help prevent detachment and save most of the vision. The procedures include:

  • Laser surgery that helps the retina fuse with the underlying tissue
  • Freezing process called the cryopexy helps freeze the outer eye surface with the retinal defect and secures the retina to the eye wall.

Avoid carrying out vigorous activity after the procedure. In case of retinal detachment, the doctor will carry out surgical procedures to help repair the damage. Surgical procedures include pneumatic retinopexy, where air or gas is injected into the vitreous. The bubble placed in the correct location helps seal the tear. The fluid that flows behind the retina gets absorbed by itself. And this helps the retina reattach itself to the wall at the back of the eye. One may have to hold their head in a certain position for a few days to allow the bubble stay in place.

Scleral buckling is another procedure where the doctor will suture a piece of silicone sponge to the white of the eye. This piece of silicone will give support to the eye wall and help reduce the pressure by the vitreous on the retina causing the tear.

In case of extensive detachment, a scleral buckle will be placed around the entire eye. This buckle will stay in place for life and help prevent loss of vision.

Vitrectomy is another such procedure where the doctor removes the vitreous from the retina and injects gas, liquids or air into the vitreous space.

A surgery is not always 100% successful. It may be difficult to get a normal vision again after the surgery. The visual acuity you have depends on the location of the detachment as well as how long the retina remained detached before it was treated. 85% of the cases are successful after one surgery. In about 15% cases, a second or more surgery is required to treat the detached retina. Make sure you visit the doctor immediately, if you experience any of the changes or symptoms in your eye. This will help you save your vision and retain sight to some extent.

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Written by: Saptakee sengupta
Date last updated: April 07, 2015

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