What is a Retinal Tear?

A retinal tear takes place when the vitreous in the eye separates from the retina as we age, but does not do so cleanly.

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.

The main space in the centre of the eye contains a gel called vitreous. As we age this gel becomes less transparent and shrinks away from the retina at the back of the eye.  This is called posterior vitreous detachment, or PVD and is absolutely normal. It can affect around seventy percent of people over the age of sixty five. PVD may create a problem with floaters, but alone it will not cause any permanent loss of vision.


Sometimes the gel does not separate cleanly from the retina and will stick to and pull the retina. In some cases, this can rip the retina creating a ‘retinal tear’.

How Could a Retinal Tear Affect my Sight?

Occasionally a retinal tear has no symptoms, and is discovered at a routine eye exam.

You may experience a sudden increase in floaters in your vision, or if the tear has caused some bleeding into the eye your vision might become cloudy.

If the tear has led to a retinal detachment, there may be a fixed shadow or dark spot in your visual field.

If a retinal tear is left untreated the vitreous can pass through it and get behind the retina causing it to become detached, like wallpaper peeling off a wall. If retinal detachment occurs you may see a dark shadow around the edge of your vision which may spread towards the centre, and possible flashing lights. A retinal detachment is often a medical emergency as permanent sight loss can only be prevented within a short timeframe.

Can How is a Retinal Tear Treated?

The treatment for a retinal tear is either laser or cryotherapy.

When treating a retinal tear painlessly with laser therapy we will give you eye drops to dilate your pupil, and a drop to numb your eye. We will place a special small contact lens in your eye to help focus the laser precisely. 

When treating a retinal tear with cryotherapy we will give you eye drops to numb your eye, then we will apply a cryoprobe to the outside of your eye above the tear. The freezing temperature is transmitted to the retina through the wall of the eye as it is very thin.

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