Your retina processes all the light that comes into your eye, allowing you to see. It’s a thin tissue, made up of several layers that line the back of your eye.
If it begins to separate from the back of your eye, this can threaten some or all of your sight, as it needs to remain connected to its blood supply to work properly.
A retinal detachment is rare and affects only one in 10,000 people each year. It’s more likely as you get older, with most cases occurring in people aged between 50 and 75. However, your risk is also raised if you have:
Fortunately, your sight can usually be saved if it’s diagnosed and treated promptly, so it’s vitally important to be aware of the possible symptoms and seek medical help quickly.
Retinal tears or holes
This is more likely with age, and is the result of changes to the gel (called vitreous gel) that fills your eyeball. As you get older, it shrinks, pulling away from the retina. This is usually harmless but if it causes your retina to tear, fluid can leak between the retinal layers, causing it to detach from the back of your eye and cause flashes and floaters.
Some eye conditions, such as diabetic retinopathy, can cause scar tissue to form inside your eye, which can pull on your retina, leading to detachment.
A build-up of fluid under your retina, due to injury or trauma, can also lead to a retinal detachment.
You may have a detached retina if:
Although these symptoms don’t always mean you have a detached retina, it’s important to seek medical advice to prevent permanent sight loss. See your optometrist, GP or hospital A&E department as soon as possible. If you have a dark shadow moving across your vision, you should go straight to A&E.
If your optometrist or GP suspects a detached retina, you'll be referred immediately to hospital to see an ophthalmologist – a doctor who specialises in eyes. Every hospital A&E department should have one on call.
The ophthalmologist will look at the back of your eye using:
If the ophthalmologist can’t see your retina properly, you may be given an ultrasound scan.
Treatment will depend on the extent of the detachment or tear but will involve surgery to seal any holes or tears and reattach your retina. The earlier the surgery is carried out, the better your chances of a full recovery. Methods include: