Detached Retina and Retinal Tears

What Is a Retinal Detachment or Tear?

The retina is the thin layer of tissue at the back of the eye that receives light focused by the eye’s lens, converts that light into neural signals, and send these signals along the optic nerve to the brain for visual recognition. In some circumstances, a tear can develop in the retina. When this occurs, fluid can pass through the tear and build up behind the retina, pushing it out of position and causing a retinal detachment. Detachments can also occur without tears.

A retinal detachment is a medical emergency. Without prompt treatment, a retinal detachment can lead to severe vision loss or blindness. Anyone experiencing the symptoms of a retinal detachment should seek medical care immediately.

Symptoms of Detached Retina and Retinal Tears

Symptoms of retinal tears and detachment can include:

  • A sudden increase in size and number of floaters – spots or spider webs in your vision
  • Flashes of light like in your vision
  • Seeing a dark curtain or shadow move across your field of vision

What Causes Detached Retina and Retinal Tears?

There are three types of retinal detachments.

  • A rhegmatogenous retinal detachment is the most common type of retinal detachment. As we age, the vitreous gel that fills the eye sometimes separates from the retina. This is called a posterior vitreous detachment (PVD). Normally, a PVD causes no issues. However, if the attachment is too firm, a PVD can cause a tear in the retina as the vitreous pulls away. Fluid that passes through the tear pools underneath the retina, pushing it away from the back of the eye and causing it to detach. Other causes of a rhegmatogenous retinal detachment include eye injury, eye surgery (including cataract surgery), or myopia (nearsightedness).
  • A tractional retinal detachment is usually caused when scar tissue that has grown on the retina’s surface pulls the retina away from the back of the eye. The primary cause of this type of scarring is diabetic retinopathy and the leaky blood vessels associated with it. Other causes of tractional retinal detachment include eye diseases, inflammation of the eye, or eye infection.
  • An exudative retinal detachment happens when fluid accumulates beneath the retina without any tears or holes in the retina. If there is enough fluid buildup, it can push the retina away from the back of the eye and cause a detachment. The leaking or swelling that causes exudative retinal detachment can be caused by age-related macular degeneration, injury to the eye, tumors, or inflammatory disorders.

Diagnosing a Detached Retina and Retinal Tears

Your ophthalmologist can diagnose a retinal tear or retinal detachment during a comprehensive eye examination by dilating the pupils of your eyes and visually evaluating your retina. In addition, you may undergo an ultrasound of the eye, an optical coherence tomography (OCT) scan, or a photograph of your retina called a fundus photo. These tests provide more detail about the health of the retina and how well it is attached.

What Are the Treatment Options for Detached Retina and Retinal Tears?

Depending on the severity of the tear or how much of the retina is detached and what kind of detachment it is, a retina specialist has a number of treatment options available at their disposal. These include in-office procedures, such as:

And surgical options, such as:

Detached Retina and Retinal Tears at the Dean McGee Eye Institute

A detached retina is a medical emergency for which the retina and vitreous surgeons at the Dean McGee Eye Institute are ready to help. If you experience any of the symptoms of a retinal detachment, please call us immediately at 405.271.1092 or 800.787.9014 to make an appointment. We have physicians available to evaluate your eye health emergency 24 hours a day, seven days a week – no other practice in the state has such coverage. So you can trust the only nationally-ranked eye institute in Oklahoma and the surrounding region to provide you the expert care you need.