Detached Retina

The retina is the light-sensitive layer of tissue at the back of the eye. When it peels away from the underlying tissues that support it, the disorder is known as retinal detachment or a detached retina.

What Is a Detached Retina?

A detached retina (REH-tuh-nuh) (also called a retinal detachment) occurs when the retina, the layer of light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye, becomes separated or detached from its normal position. When the retina detaches, it loses some of its blood supply. The retina may be damaged permanently and vision lost if the retina is not reattached quickly. There are three different types of retinal detachment:

A detached retina refers to the movement of the retina away from the inner wall of the eyeball, resulting in a sudden defect in vision. Persons suffering from diabetes have a high risk of developing retinal disease.

A detached retina refers to the movement of the retina away from the inner wall of the eyeball, resulting in a sudden defect in vision. Persons suffering from diabetes have a high risk of developing retinal disease.
Illustration by Electronic Illustrators Group. © 2016 Cengage Learning®.

Causes of detached retina include injury to the eye and diseases that cause retinopathy (disease of the retina), such as diabetes * or sickle cell anemia * .

How Common Is a Detached Retina and Is It Contagious?

Although a detached retina can happen at any age, it is more common in people older than 40 years, and it is more common in men than women, and in Caucasians than African Americans. Retinal detachment is more likely to occur in people who have a family history of retinal detachment; who are extremely nearsighted; who have already had a detached retina in the other eye; who have already had cataract * surgery; who have had an eye injury; or who have other diseases of the eye, such as lattice retinal degeneration.

Retinal detachment is not contagious.

How Do People Know They Have a Detached Retina?

Signs of retinal detachment include blurred vision; flashes of light; a dark curtain or veil over the field of vision; floaters (little specks that move around in the visual field); and decreased or complete loss of vision. Peripheral vision (the outer edges of the visual field) is usually the first to be lost. There is usually no pain with retinal detachment, so changes in vision are important in recognizing the problem.

How Do Doctors Diagnose and Treat a Detached Retina?


A detached retina is a medical emergency. It should be diagnosed and treated by a physician who specializes in diseases of the eye, an ophthalmologist. Diagnosis is made by examination of the eye with an instrument called an ophthalmoscope * . Physicians can see the location where the retina has separated from the retinal pigment epithelium.


A small retinal detachment is treated with laser surgery or freezing therapy, also called cryotherapy. In more serious cases, the ophthalmologist will perform surgery on the affected eye. Two common forms of surgery to repair a detached retina are scleral buckle surgery and vitrectomy (vih-TREK-tuh-mee). In scleral buckle surgery, the doctor attaches silicone bands to the sclera (the white of the eye). The bands put pressure on the eye, reducing the flow of fluid through the tear in the retina and allowing it to reattach in its normal position. In a vitrectomy, the doctor removes the vitreous humor and fills its space with either silicone oil or a gas bubble to hold the retina in place until it can reattach. If gas is used, it is eventually absorbed by the body and the space refills with fluid. If silicone oil is used, the doctor will remove it in a separate operation after two to eight months.

Can a Detached Retina Be Prevented?

In general, retinal detachment cannot be prevented. The following strategies may prevent injuries to the eye that could lead to retinal detachment and give advice on what to do should retinal detachment occur:

See also Cataracts • Eye Disorders: Overview • Nearsightedness


Books and Articles

Olver, Jane, et al. Ophthalmology at a Glance. 2nd ed. Chichester, UK: Wiley, 2014.


All about Vision. “Retinal Detachment.” (accessed March 22, 2016).

Merck Manual, Consumer Version. “Detachment of the Retina.” (accessed March 22, 2016).

National Eye Institute. “Facts about Retinal Detachment.” (accessed March 22, 2016).

Wills Eye Hospital. “Retinal Detachment.” (accessed March 22, 2016).


National Eye Institute. 31 Center Dr., MSC 2510, Bethesda, MD 20892-2510. Telephone: 301-496-5248. Website: (accessed March 22, 2016).

Wills Eye Hospital. 840 Walnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19107. Toll-free: 877-289-4557. Website: (accessed March 22, 2016).

* diabetes is a condition in which the body's pancreas does not produce enough insulin or the body cannot use the insulin it makes effectively, resulting in increased levels of sugar in the blood. This increase leads to increased urination, dehydration, weight loss, weakness, and a number of other symptoms and complications related to chemical imbalances in the body.

* sickle cell anemia is a hereditary condition in which red blood cells, which are usually round, take on an abnormal crescent shape and have a decreased ability to carry oxygen throughout the body.

* cataract is an eye disorder characterized by clouding of the lens of the eye.

* ophthalmoscope (off-THAL-moskope) is an instrument used to examine the inner eye.

Disclaimer:   This information is not a tool for self-diagnosis or a substitute for professional care.

(MLA 8th Edition)