What is retinal detachment?

Retinal detachment is an emergency situation that happens when the retina breaks away from the underlying nourishing layer. Cataracts, eye injuries, and other conditions may cause this problem. Extreme vision changes -- a sudden increase in floaters, light flashes in the eye, or the sense that a curtain is dropping over your field of vision -- are signs that you need immediate medical attention.

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, just as a photographic image 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.

David R. Demartini, MD
The retina is the very sensitive and delicate layer in the back of the eye that receives the light image and converts it into a picture for the brain. It acts like the film in a camera. In order to function it must be touching (attached) to the pigment and vascular layer underneath it. Rarely, it can separate from these underlying layers (detach) and then it functions poorly and can eventually die from lack of nutrition from the underlying layers.

Usually, the patient will see a myriad of floaters and flashing lights followed later by a small, then larger, loss of vision initially off to one side, then more centrally. If recognized quickly and referred to a retinal surgeon, these can be repaired, often with complete return of vision. There are many causes for a retinal detachment but the most common are trauma, high myopia and previous eye surgery.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.