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What is a Retinal Detachment?

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Retina Detachment DiagramThe retina is a light-sensitive tissue lining the back of the eye responsible for sending visual signals to the brain via the optic nerve. A healthy and attached retina is crucial to maintaining sight. If the retina pulls away or detaches from its normal position, this can lead to loss of vision.


A retinal detachment can occur at any age without cause. There are certain factors that can increase one’s risk of having a retinal detachment. These include being highly nearsighted, recent eye surgery, trauma, a history of prior retinal detachment, a positive family history of retinal detachments, and disorders/defects of the retina such as lattice degeneration.


The onset of a retinal detachment may be heralded by an increased number of cobweb-like floaters in one’s vision and/or flashing lights in the periphery. Depending on the extent of retinal detachment, the patient may experience no change in vision, a partial loss of visual field or an overall decline in vision. This total decline in vision often gives the patient a feeling that a curtain has been pulled over their eyes.


Treatment depends upon the extent of retinal detachment. Often times, laser surgery is used to weld the retina back into its place if the detachment is limited. A more extensive detachment may be amenable to an in-the-office procedure called cryopexy, where a freezing treatment is applied to the areas of retinal detachment. A gas bubble is also injected into the eye to help push the retina back into position.

Some retinal detachments require the patient to undergo surgery in a controlled operating room. A vitrectomy is one type of such surgery. It involves creating small portals into the eye to remove the existing vitreous jelly and replace it with gas. This gas pushes the retina back against the wall of the eye. This surgery also requires laser or cryopexy to weld or freeze the retina back into place.

A scleral buckle is the second type of procedure used to treat retinal detachments. A synthetic band is used to encircle the eye from the outside bringing the wall of the eye in closer proximity to the detached retina.

Based on the eye exam findings, your ophthalmologist will perform the procedure best suited to you. Retinal detachment surgery has a fairly high success rate when caught in a timely fashion. However, the final outcome can be unpredictable and may require multiple surgical attempts.