A retinal detachment occurs when the retina is pulled away from its normal position. The retina does not work when it is detached. Vision is blurred, like a camera picture would be blurry if the film were loose inside the camera.
A retinal detachment is a very serious problem that almost always causes blindness unless it is treated.
The vitreous is a clear gel that fills the middle of the eye. As we get older, the vitreous may pull away from its attachment to the retina at the back of the eye. Usually the vitreous separates from the retina without causing problems. But sometimes the vitreous pulls hard enough to tear the retina in one or more places. Fluid may pass through the retinal tear, lifting the retina off the back of the eye, like wallpaper can peel off a wall.
The following conditions increase the chance that you might get a retinal detachment:
- Previous cataract surgery
- Severe injury
- Previous retinal detachment in your other eye
- Family history of retinal detachment
- Weak areas in your retina that can be seen by your ophthalmologist
Early warning symptoms that may indicate the presence of a retinal detachment include flashing lights, new floaters, and a gray curtain moving across your field of vision. These symptoms do not always mean a retinal detachment is present. However, you should see your ophthalmologist as soon as possible. Your ophthalmologist can diagnose retinal detachment during an eye examination where he or she dilates (enlarges) the pupils of your eyes. Some retinal detachments are found during a routine eye examination.
Only after careful examination can your ophthalmologist tell whether a retinal tear or early retinal detachment is present. Almost all patients with retinal detachment require surgery to put the retina back in its proper position.
There are several ways to fix a retinal detachment. The decision of which type of surgery and anesthesia (local or general) to use depends upon the characteristics of your detachment.
In each of the following methods, your ophthalmologist will locate the retinal tears and use laser surgery or cryotherapy to seal the tear.