Retinal Detachments

What is the Retina?

The retina is the nerve layer at the back of the eye that senses light and sends images to your brain.
The eye is like a camera. The lens in the front of the eye focuses light onto the retina. You can think of the retina as the film that lines the back of a camera. The center of the camera film is called the macula. The vitreous is a gel that fills the inside of the eye.


What is a retinal detachment?

A retinal detachment occurs when the retina is pulled away from its normal position. The retina does not work when it is detached because the nutrition does not reach the retina. Therefore the vision is blurred in the area of the retina detachment. A retinal detachment is a serious condition and causes blindness unless it is treated.

What causes retinal detachment?

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 at the back of the eye. This is termed VITREOUS DETACHMENT. Usually a vitreous detachment does not cause significant problems.
 Sometimes the vitreous may have strong attachment to the retina. If it does, the vitreous can pull hard enough to tear the retina in one or more places. The fluid inside the eye then passes through the retinal tear and lifts the retina off the back of the eye. This is like wall paper peeling 
off a wall. 
A retinal tear and detachment may also result in bleeding into the interior of the eye termed a VIRTEOUS HAEMORRHAGE.

The following conditions may increase the chance that you might get a retinal detachment.

  • Short sightedness (Myopia)
  • Previous retinal detachment in the other eye
  • Family history of retinal detachment
  • Previous injury to the eye
  • Weak areas that have been identified by your ophthalmologist (lattice degeneration).

What are the warning symptoms of retinal detachment?

These are the early signs that may indicate the presence of a retinal detachment.

  • Flashing lights. These are bright and very rapid flashes lasting seconds.
  • Changes to the existing floaters or new floaters
  • A black curtain moving across your field of vision.

How to diagnose a retinal detachment?
 An ophthalmologist can diagnose retinal detachment during an eye examination after dilating the pupils of your eyes. Only after careful examination can your ophthalmologist tell whether a retinal tear or early retinal detachment is present.

What treatment is needed?

Vitreous detachment

In uncomplicated vitreous detachments no treatment is required. However your Ophthalmologist will arrange follow-up to ensure that no further problems occur.

Retinal tears

Retinal tears require treatment using laser surgery or retinal cryotherapy (freezing), which seals the retina to the back of the eye.
 Laser is often performed using a lens placed on the eye as an outpatient procedure in the clinic. Retinal cryotherapy is performed in the day surgery using local anaesthesia. These procedures do not involve open surgery and are associated with little or no discomfort.

Retinal detachments

Patients with retinal detachment require more major 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 depends on the characteristics of your detachment.

Most retinal detachment surgery is successful, however a second operation is sometimes required. This may be due to scarring of the retina called proliferative vitreoretinopathy (PVR). This scar may pull on the retina causing it to tear and re-detach. If the retina cannot be reattached, the eye will continue to lose sight and ultimately becomes blind.

Will your vision improve? 
Vision may take many months to improve and in some cases may never return fully. The more severe the detachment, the less vision returns. Therefore it is very important to see your ophthalmologist at the first sign of any trouble.