What is Retinal Detachment?

When a retinal detachment takes place the thin layer of light-sensitive nerve tissue separates from the layers beneath,  similar to wall paper in a room falling off the wall. This is a potentially blinding condition, which can cause your vision to become increasingly blurred and distorted. This damage can also give the appearance of a dark shadow around the edge of your vision which spreads towards the centre of your vision. Commonly this can be preceded by seeing floaters and flashing lights. Retinal detachments need to be treated quickly, as without treatment the vision loss is permanent and may potentially worsen.

The retina is a thin layer of nerve tissue lining the inside of the back of the eye. Light that enters your eye through the pupil is focused by the lens onto the retina. This causes signals to be sent along the optic nerve to the brain where they are interpreted into the images you see.

Retinal detachment will normally respond well to surgery. Further deterioration can normally be prevented, and you ought to enjoy a good level of vision afterwards.

Retinal Detachment Eye Wales

What Types Of Retinal Detachment are there?

The most common type of retinal detachment is ‘rhegmatogenous retinal detachment’.

The most common type of retinal detachment is ‘rhegmatogenous retinal detachment’. (Rhegmatogenous means ‘caused by a tear’.) This can happen when a hole or a tear develops in the retina which allows fluid in the eye to seep between the retina and the back wall of the eye, causing the two to separate. This is often caused by the vitreous (gel) in the eye shrinking at the back of the eye, which is a natural part of ageing.

Sometimes the retina can be pulled away from the back of the eye by scar tissue within the eye. This can be caused by abnormal growth of blood vessels, particularly in people with diabetes, or when an eye injury or inflammation has occurred.

A much rarer cause of retinal detachment is when the blood vessels beneath the retina begin to leak fluid causing the fluid to build up beneath the retina and for it sometimes to detach. One of the possible causes of this exudative retinal detachment can be severe inflammation in your eye.

Am I at Risk of Retinal Detachment?

Although anybody can develop a retinal detachment there are factors that can increase the risk of this occurring.

The risk of retinal detachment can be slightly increased if you have had cataract surgery or any other form of intraocular surgery.

If you have already suffered a retinal detachment in one eye, there is an increased risk of the condition appearing in your other eye. This risk can be assessed in an examination and if necessary preventive laser treatment may be helpful.

Ageing increases our risk due to the natural changes in the vitreous (gel) of the eye that occur as the years pass.

If you are short-sighted your eyes will be larger than average and your retina will be thinner and more fragile, leading to an increased risk of developing retinal detachment.

Retinal detachment can also be caused by a direct impact to the eye or to the face.

In very rare cases the cause of retinal detachment may be a weakness in a person’s genetic makeup. If any of your blood relatives have suffered from detached retina of this type you may have an increased risk of developing the condition.

If you are diabetic you may suffer from diabetic retinopathy where abnormal growth of blood vessels from your retina can cause bleeding and scarring, which may pull on your retina.

When should I have Surgery for Retinal Detachment?

A retinal detachment is often a medical emergency as permanent sight loss can only be prevented within a short timeframe. The medical team would aim to intervene to prevent the central part of the retina, the macula, from becoming detached because it is where our clearest vision is created.

You will need to undergo surgery to reattach your retina to prevent permanent sight loss, and the timing of this will be driven by which part of your retina has been affected. The recommendation might be that you have surgery within 24 hours to prevent macular damage occurring thus increasing the likelihood of your vision returning to normal.

The only way in which any form of vision can be restored is with an operation. This involves a vitrectomy to remove the offending vitreous, and treatment of the retinal tear either with laser or cryotherapy. A tamponade agent, which is a gas bubble or silicone oil, is then injected to push the retina back into its natural position. You will be required to keep yourself in a face down position for up to a week after the surgery. This gives the best chance of the retina reattaching, as it pushes the gas bubble onto the tear in the retina. You will be given postoperative drops to use for a month after the surgery.


You will see an improvement in your peripheral vision after the repair but if your central vision has been affected it may never fully recover. You may achieve a substantial improvement in your central vision after a repair if your loss of central vision is recent and urgent reattachment surgery is undertaken. 

Around eighty percent of people who have surgery for retinal detachment find that one procedure is all that is needed to achieve the repair.

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