Help and frequently asked questions

Do I have a retinal detachment?


Retinal detachments occur when the retina begins to tear away from the blood vessels supplying it with nutrients and oxygen. The retina is a light-sensitive layer of tissue that lines the inner surface of the eye and acts much in the same way as a film in a camera. When light hits the retina, it creates electrical and chemical reactions that send an image through the optic nerve to the brain. This allows the brain to 'see' what the eye sees. Due to the importance of the retina in sight, a detachment is a serious condition that can cause blindness if left untreated.

What causes retinal detachments?

A common cause of retinal detachments is when tiny holes develop in the retina, which allow fluid to leak underneath. Once enough fluid builds up, the retina will begin to pull away from blood vessels. Eventually, without blood, the nerve cells in the retina begin to die. Age is thought to be the primary factor in retinal detachments, due to the fact the retina becomes narrower and weaker as you get older. People who are extremely short-sighted may also be at a higher risk of developing the condition. Other less common causes include:

  • Diabetes
  • Sudden injuries to the eye
  • Cataract removal surgery
  • Conditions that cause inflammation and swelling in the eye

What are the warning signs of a retinal detachment?

There are a number of symptoms that may indicate you are at risk of suffering a retinal detachment. The sudden appearance of 'floaters' can be a warning. Floaters are dark spots or shapes that suddenly appear in your field of vision. These may show as a little more than flecks or they could be large rings or a cobweb effect of lots of floaters. Typically only one eye will be affected. Another common symptom of retinal detachment is seeing flashes of light in one eye. These will only be short (no more than a second). There is also a chance of your vision blurring or becoming distorted. Should you experience any of these issues, it is important that you see an optometrist immediately. Without treatment, there will be ongoing deterioration of vision and you can become completely blind.Once the detachment reaches a certain stage, you may experience a dark curtain or shadow spreading across your field of vision.

Are there treatments for a retinal detachment?

Total vision loss is almost certain for people who do not seek treatment when suffering a retinal detachment. Surgery will be required to reattach the retina, although most people only need to have one operation for this to be a success.

  • Scleral buckling: This involves stitching fine bands of silicone rubber, semi-hard plastic or sponge onto the outside of the sclera, otherwise known as the white of the eye. The bands squeeze the sclera towards the middle of the eye, allowing the torn retina to settle against the eye wall. Extreme heat or cold will then be used to scar the retina and hold it in place.
  • Pneumatic retinopexy: Relatively minor retinal detachments can be fixed through this procedure, which requires injecting a small bubble of gas into the eye. This pushes the retina back into place.As with scleral buckling, laser or freezing treatment will then be used to scar the retina.Vitrectomy: A vitrectomy removes some or all of the vitreous humour in the eye, which is a gel-like substance that helps give the eye its spherical shape.

However, if the liquid is too thick it can pull the retina away from the underlying blood vessels.A vitrectomy replaces the vitreous humour with a gas or silicone bubble.