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Retinal Detachment Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

A retinal detachment happens when the layer at the back of your eye (retina) pulls away from the underlying tissue. Often, it will cause blurry vision.

A detached retina is a medical emergency and can lead to blindness. An eye doctor can treat some types of retinal detachment if you go right away.

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For more information, or to make an appointment with an ophthalmologist, please contact the UPMC Vision Institute at 412-647-2200 or 1-800-446-3797.

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What Is Retinal Detachment?

Doctors define retinal detachment as a tearing or separating of the retina from the rest of the eye.

The retina is a light-sensitive layer of tissue at the back of the eye. It captures the light coming into the eye and converts it to nerve signals. The brain reads these signals as vision.

When the retina gets torn or detached, it doesn't work correctly. Your vision gets blurry, and you could lose sight in the affected eye.

Retinal detachment is rare. Between 10 and 18 Americans per 100,00 have a retinal detachment. It happens most often in people over 50 years old.

Is a detached retina detachment serious?

Yes. A retinal detachment requires care right away.

If left untreated, you could lose your eyesight.

What Are the Types of Retinal Detachment?

Doctors classify retinal detachment based on what caused them.

Rhegmatogenous retinal detachments

This is the most common type of retinal detachment. It happens when a tear in the retina allows fluid to pass through and collect under the retina. This detaches the retina from its blood supply.

Tractional retinal detachments

Scar tissue that grows on the retina's surface may pull it off the back wall of the eye. This type of detachment often occurs from diabetes.

Exudative retinal detachments

These happen when fluid leaks from blood vessels and collects under the retina. It's less common than the other types of retinal detachments. It often occurs if a person's eyes have inflammation or leakage from abnormal blood vessels.

What Triggers Retinal Detachment?

Retinal detachment can happen for several reasons, such as:

  • Thinning of the retina due to aging.
  • Trauma or injury to the eye.
  • The buildup of scar tissue on the eye.
  • Inflammation of the eye.

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What Are the Risk Factors and Complications of a Detached Retina?

Retinal detachment risk factors

A detached retina can happen to anyone.

But you're at higher risk if:

  • You had a detached retina before.
  • You're over 50.
  • A family member had a retinal detachment.
  • You're extremely nearsighted, especially if you have degenerative myopia — a type of nearsightedness.
  • You have diabetes. Diabetes can lead to diabetic retinopathy, a disease that affects blood vessels in the retina.
  • You've had a severe eye injury.
  • You've had past eye surgery, such as cataract surgery.
  • You have posterior vitreous detachment. This condition is when the gel-like fluid in the middle of the eye pulls away from the retina.
  • You have lattice degeneration, a thinning of the retina.
  • You have retinoschisis, a disease where the retina separates into layers.

Retinal detachment complications

Without treatment, a detached retina leads to permanent blurred vision and blindness.

Can retinal detachment heal on its own?

A detached retina can't heal on its own. You need treatment from an eye doctor as soon as possible.

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Retinal Detachment Symptoms and Diagnosis

What are the warning signs and symptoms of retinal detachment?

Detached retina symptoms include:

  • Seeing sudden flashes of light.
  • A sudden increase in floaters. They may look like squiggles, cobwebs, or spots.
  • Loss of central vision.
  • A dark shadow in your side vision.
  • A gray curtain moving across your field of vision.

You should also see an eye doctor if you have any trauma to the eye. Trauma might include getting hit in the eye while playing sports or an injury from a car accident.

How do you diagnose a detached retina?

Your doctor will ask about your personal and family health history and symptoms.

They will to look into your eye.

To diagnose retinal detachment, your doctor will use some form of retinal imaging and other methods, such as:

  • A dilated eye exam. Your doctor will give you eye drops to widen your pupil to get a better view inside your eye. They may press on your eyelids to check for retinal tears.
  • An ultrasound. This test uses high-frequency sound waves to pick up signs of retinal detachment.
  • An optical coherence tomography scan. This test takes highly detailed pictures of your retina using light waves.

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How Do You Treat a Detached Retina?

The eye specialists at the UPMC Vision Institute are experts at treating detached retinas.

They can perform surgery to reattach the retina to the back of the eye. They can also seal the tiny holes or tears that cause retinal detachment.

Treatments we offer include:

  • Freeze treatment or laser surgery. Doctors use these outpatient procedures to seal small retinal tears.
  • Scleral buckle. The doctor sews a rubber or plastic band to the outside of the eyeball. This pushes the wall of the eye closer to the retinal tear to help close it. The doctor will treat the tear with a freezing treatment to help seal it.
  • Vitrectomy. The doctor removes the vitreous gel that's pulling on the retina. They fill the eye with a gas or oil bubble to hold the retina in place during healing.
  • Pneumatic retinopexy. Doctors insert a gas bubble into the eye. The bubble pushes the retina into place, but you must keep your head in a specific position while healing. As the eye heals, your body will make fluid to fill the eye and replace the gas bubble. This is an outpatient treatment.

Is there a cure for retinal detachment?

Surgery can help reattach your retina. Treatment is successful for nine out of 10 people.

Keep in mind that your vision won't instantly improve. It may take weeks or even months for your sight to get better.

The earlier you get treatment for the retinal detachment, the better it works. You may need a follow-up surgery if the retina detaches again.

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Contact the UPMC Vision Institute

If you have questions about retinal detachment or want to see a UPMC eye doctor, call 412-647-2200 or 1-800-446-3797.