A retinal detachment occurs when the thin nerve layer in the back of your eye that senses light and sends images to your brain is pulled away from its normal position therefore causing the retina to not function properly. Vision becomes blurred due to this separation. A retinal detachment is a very serious problem and almost always causes blindness unless treated.

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What causes a Retinal Detachment?

  • The clear gel called the vitreous that fills the middle of the eye, ages with time as we get older. As it ages and collapses in on itself, the vitreous pulls on its attachments to the retina. Usually the vitreous separates from the retina without causing problems and creates floaters, but sometimes it pulls hard enough to tear the retina in one or more places leading to a defect where fluid may pass through and detach the retina.
  • Risk Factors:
    • Nearsightedness
    • Previous cataract surgery
    • Severe traumatic injury
    • Previous retinal detachment in your other eye
    • Family history of retinal detachment
    • Weak areas in your retina

How are Retinal Detachments treated?

  • There are several ways to fix a retinal detachment. The recommended method depends on the severity of the detachment and your general health (in case anesthesia is required for surgery).
  • In each of the listed surgeries, your retina specialist will locate all of the
    retinal tears and use laser surgery or cryotherapy (freezing) to seal the tear.
  • Scleral Buckle: This surgery is performed in the operating room and the surgeon places a flexible band around the external portion of the eye to push the wall inward and counteract the force pulling the retina out of place

  • Pneumatic Retinopexy: a gas bubble is injected into the vitreous space and in combination with laser surgery or cryotherapy (freezing), the gas bubble pushes the retinal detachment/tear closed and allows the laser or cryotherapy to seal the break. This typically requires certain head positions to move the gas bubble over the retinal breaks until the gas bubble eventually disappears.

  • Vitrectomy: This surgery is performed in the operating room where the vitreous gel, which is pulling on the retina, is removed and replaced with a gas or oil bubble. These bubble tamponades help seal the retinal tears while the laser surgery heals. This typically also requires certain head positions to move the gas bubble over the retinal breaks until the gas bubble is removed. The gas bubble gradually disappears over time, but the oil bubble requires a second operation to remove the oil.

For More Information and Educational Resources

Eye Wiki

The Eye Encyclopedia written by Eye Physicians & Surgeons, sponsored by The American Academy of Ophthalmology

EyeSmart

Eye Health information from The American Academy of Ophthalmology

Saving Vision

Patient-information resource hosted by The American Society of Retina Specialists

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