Retinal detachment is a separation of the light-sensitive membrane (retina) in the back of the eye from its supporting layers.
The retina is the clear tissue that lines the inside of the back of the eye. Light rays that enter the eye are focused by the cornea and lens into images that are formed on the retina.
When the retina becomes detached, bleeding from nearby blood vessels can cloud the inside of the eye so that you may not see clearly or at all. Central vision becomes severely affected if the macula becomes detached. The macula is the part of the retina responsible for sharp, detailed vision.
Symptoms of detached retina can include:
There is usually no pain in or around the eye.
The ophthalmologist (eye doctor) will examine your eyes. Tests to check the retina and pupil may include:
Most people with a retinal detachment need surgery. Surgery may be done right away or within a short time after diagnosis. Some types of surgery can be done in your eye doctor's office.
Severe detachments require surgery in a hospital. These procedures include:
Tractional retinal detachments may be watched for a while before surgery. If surgery is needed, a vitrectomy is usually done.
How well you do after a retinal detachment depends on the location and extent of the detachment and early treatment. If the macula was not damaged, the outlook with treatment can be excellent.
Successful repair of the retina does not always fully restore vision.
Some detachments cannot be repaired.
A retinal detachment causes loss of vision. Surgery to repair it may help restore some or all of your vision.
A retinal detachment is an urgent problem that requires medical attention within 24 hours of the first symptoms of new flashes of light and floaters.
Use protective eye wear to prevent eye trauma, especially when playing racquet sports. Control your blood sugar carefully if you have diabetes. See your eye care professional once a year. You may need more frequent visits if you have risk factors for retinal detachment. Be alert to symptoms of new flashes of light and floaters.
AAO PPP Retina/Vitreous Committee, Hoskins Center for Quality Eye Care. American Academy of Ophthalmology website. Preferred Practice Pattern Guidelines. Posterior vitreous detachment, retinal breaks, and lattice degeneration PPP 2019. www.aao.org/preferred-practice-pattern/posterior-vitreous-detachment-retinal-breaks-latti. Published October 2019. Accessed August 7, 2023.
Salmon JF. Retinal detachment. In: Salmon JF, ed. Kanski's Clinical Ophthalmology. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 16.
Wickham L, Aylward GW. Optimal procedures for retinal detachment repair. In: Sadda SVR, Sarraf D, Freund KB, et al, eds. Ryan's Retina. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2023:chap 108.
Yorston D, Donachie PHJ, Laidlaw DA, et al. Factors affecting visual recovery after successful repair of macula-off retinal detachments: findings from a large prospective UK cohort study. Eye (Lond). 2021;35(5):1431-1439. PMID: 32581389 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32581389/.
Reviewed By: Franklin W. Lusby, MD, Ophthalmologist, Lusby Vision Institute, La Jolla, CA. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.