The Symptoms and Causes of Retinal Detachment

13 January 2020

Author: Jacci

The Symptoms and Causes of Retinal Detachment

The retina is light sensitive tissue located at the very back of the eye. It’s responsible for translating the light rays that enter the eye into electrical signals. These signals travel to the brain through the optic nerve; creating the visual images that we see.

Retinal detachment is when the retina pulls away from the back of the eye; for reasons often unknown. This results in distorted vision and requires immediate medical attention, to prevent permanent damage.

Luckily there are various treatment options available; dependent on the severity of the detachment. Early detection is vital; which is why it’s so important to attend eyes examinations at least once every two years.

In this article, we explore the causes, symptoms and treatments of retinal detachment. 

What are the symptoms of retinal detachment?

If left untreated a detached retina can cause permanent vision loss. Early detection is therefore essential. 

The most common symptoms of retinal detachment include:

  • Eye floaters
  • Blurry vision
  • Flashing lights
  • Dark shadows 
  • A sudden decrease in vision

Some of the above symptoms, such as floaters, are fairly common and do not necessarily point toward a detached retina. However, if you notice a sudden change in severity, please consult an optometrist- It’s worth booking an eye test when any changes occur in vision.


What causes retinal detachment?

Retinal detachment can happen to anyone; but there are certain risk factors, such as:

  • Being over 40
  • Having high myopia (short-sight)
  • Previous cataract surgery
  • Eye injury/trauma
  • Having a family history of retinal detachment 

The three types of retinal detachment

Rhegmatogenous (reg-ma-todge-uh-nus):

This type of retinal detachment occurs when a tear in the retina lets fluid in, which accumulates beneath the retina and causes it to pull away. The area where the retina detaches ultimately loses blood supply and stops working sufficiently.

Rhegmatogenous detachment is most common in older individuals. As the eyes age the vitreous (gel-like substance inside the eye) shrinks and causes a tear.


This type of detachment happens when scar tissue grows on the surface of the retina. Tractional detachment can be a complication of diabetes. 


With exudative detachment, fluid collects beneath the retina, but with no holes or tears. This type of detachment can be caused by age-related macular degeneration, injury to the eye or inflammatory disorders.

Is there treatment for retinal detachment? 

There are several treatment options available for retinal detachment; dependant on the severity of the case. The earlier a retinal detachment can be treated, the greater the chances of restoring vision. 

In roughly eight out of ten people with retinal detachment, one procedure is all that is needed to restore vision sufficiently. However if scar tissue has progressed past a certain stage, the retina cannot be reattached and the eye will continue to lose sight.

There are three types of surgery available for retinal detachment; during which the surgeon will also be able to use a laser or cryotherapy (a freezing treatment) to seal any tears or holes that may have formed in the retina.


This is a very common method for treating a detached retina; during which the surgeon will remove the vitreous from the back of the eye and replace it with gas bubbles. 

These bubbles hold the retina in place as it heals and reattaches. The eye’s natural fluids will replace the gas bubble in the meantime; taking a total of around 5-6 weeks.

The surgery itself can take anything from one to several hours, depending on how developed the detachment is. Local anaesthetic is usually administered prior to surgery; however general anaesthetic can be requested. 

Scleral buckle surgery

The scleral is the white of the eye, which acts as a supportive outer layer. During this treatment, a surgeon attaches a small piece of silicone (buckle) onto the scleral at the location of the retinal tear. This is designed to repair the detachment by pushing the sclera toward the tear and back into its normal position.

Scleral buckling can take as little as 45 minutes to perform; with recovery time ranging from two to four weeks. 

Pneumatic retinopexy

Pneumatic retinopexy is similar to Vitrectomy. During this procedure the surgeon will inject a small gas bubble into the eye, at the location of the detachment; without removing the vitreous. 

This bubble presses the retina into place at the back of the eye. This procedure is recommended for patients whose retinal detachment has only affected a small area. 

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