What are the symptoms of retinal detachment?

Symptoms of retinal tears or detachment include the following:
  • light flashes
  • sudden appearance of many floaters (specks of debris that seem to float through your vision)
  • a shadow or curtain over part of your visual field (usually this comes as detachment progresses)
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Retinal detachment symptoms involve seeing a dark curtain, shade or shadow in your vision. A precursor may be any increase in floaters or flashes which requires a dilated eye exam to rule out a detached retina or torn retina.
Jeffrey S. Heier, MD
Contact your ophthalmologist immediately if you notice any of these early warning symptoms of retinal detachment (separation of the retina from the back of the eye), because the condition may be a medical emergency. Some retinal detachments must be treated immediately to prevent vision loss, although only a doctor can make this determination:
  • flashing lights
  • new floaters
  • gradual shading of vision from one side (much like a curtain being drawn)
  • quick deterioration of sharp, central vision (this occurs when the macula -- the area of the retina responsible for sharp central vision -- detaches)
Retinal detachment occurs when the retina is lifted or pulled from its normal position. Symptoms are:

  • a sudden or gradual increase in the number of floaters in your field of vision
  • light flashes in the eye
  • a sudden change in vision like a shade pulled over one eye

If not treated right away, retinal detachment can cause permanent vision loss. If you have symptoms of a retinal detachment, see an eye doctor right away.
These early symptoms may indicate the presence of a retinal detachment:
  • Flashing lights
  • New floaters
  • A shadow in the periphery (side) of your field of vision
  • 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 and will dilate (enlarge) 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.

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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.