Detached Retina

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Retinal detachment is a rare but serious and sight-threatening event which occurs when the retina – the light-sensitive inner lining of the back of the eye – becomes separated from the underlying tissue. This may be caused by a hole or tear in the retina which allows fluid to get underneath, weakening the attachment of the retina which then becomes detached – rather like wallpaper peeling off a damp wall. Detached retina can also be caused by an injury or may be a consequence of other eye conditions or surgery, including cataract surgery.

What are the symptoms?

The most common symptom is a shadow or curtain spreading across the vision of one eye. You may also experience bright flashes of light and/or showers of dark spots called floaters. These symptoms are never painful. Many people experience flashes or floaters and these are not necessarily a cause for alarm. However, if they are severe and seem to be getting worse, and/or vision is being lost, a doctor should be seen urgently. Prompt treatment can often minimise the damage to the eye.

Who is at risk from a detached retina?

Although detached retina affects only about one person per 10,000, it is more common in middle-aged people and those who are very short-sighted. If you have a detached retina in one eye, the risk of developing one in the other eye is increased. Very rarely, younger people can have a weakness of the retina, or it can be detached as a result of a blow to the eye or head. Retinal detachment can also occur as a result of laser refractive surgery (LASIK) but this is a rare complication. Cataract surgery, ocular tumours and diabetic eye disease are other possible causes.

What can be done?

A detached retina needs urgent medical attention. The sooner the retina is reattached, the better the chances of regaining vision. With early help, it may only be necessary to have laser or freezing treatment. This is a simple procedure usually performed under a local anaesthetic. Often, however, an operation to repair the hole in the retina will be needed. This does not usually cause pain, but the eye will be sore and swollen afterwards. You will usually need to stay in hospital for two or three days after the operation.

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