Detached retina occurs when the retina becomes separated from its underlying supportive tissue. The retina sends visual images to the brain through the optic nerve. When detachment or dislocation occurs, vision is blurred. A detached retina is a very serious problem that almost always causes blindness unless it is treated.
If you suddenly notice spots, floaters and flashes of light, you may be experiencing the warning signs of a detached retina. Your eyesight might become blurry, or you might have poor vision. Another symptom is seeing a shadow or a curtain descending from the top of the eye or across from the side.
These signs can occur gradually as the retina pulls away from the supportive tissue, or they may occur suddenly if the retina detaches immediately. Retinal detachment can occur at any age, but it is more common in midlife and later. Conditions that can increase the chance of a retinal detachment are:
- Previous cataract surgery
- Severe trauma
- Previous retinal detachment in your other eye
- Family history of retinal detachment
- Weak areas in your retina
Retinal tears are usually treated with laser surgery or cryotherapy (freezing), to seal the retina to the back wall of the eye again. These treatments cause little or no discomfort and may be performed in an ophthalmologist’s office. This treatment will usually prevent progression to a retinal detachment.
To return the retina back to its proper position in the back of the eye surgery may be needed. There are several ways to fix a detached retina. Type of surgery and anesthesia (local or general) required depends upon the characteristics of the retinal detachment. In each of the following methods, your ophthalmologist will locate any retinal tears and use laser surgery or cryotherapy (freezing) around them to seal the tear.
Pneumatic retinopexy is a procedure in which a gas bubble is injected into the vitreous space inside the eye. The gas bubble pushes the retinal tear back against the wall of the eye and closes the tear. Laser or cryo-surgery is used to secure the retina to the eye wall around the retinal tear. Your ophthalmologist will ask you to maintain a certain head position for several days. The gas bubble will gradually disappear. Sometimes this procedure can be done in the ophthalmologist’s office.
An ophthalmologist may also perform a procedure called scleral bucking to reinforce the protective sclera. Often the ophthalmologist will drain the fluid from under the detached retina allowing the retina to return back to its normal position against the back wall of the eye. This procedure is performed in the operating room, usually on an outpatient basis.
Vitrectomy may also be necessary to remove any vitreous gel which is pulling on the retina. This may also be necessary if the vitreous is to be replaced with a gas bubble. Your body’s own fluids will gradually replace this gas bubble, but the vitreous gel does not return. Sometimes a vitrectomy may be combined with a scleral buckle.