Retinal detachment

Retinal detachment occurs when there is fluid that leaks through, causing the retinal layer to separate from its original position. When the retinal detaches, it could cause permanent vision loss.

The Retina

The retina is the most important part of the eye, which lies in the back of your eye and contains special cells that receive the light rays coming into your eyes and transmitting the signals to the optic nerve that eventually leads to your brain for conversion into the images that you see every day. Therefore, if any part of the retina is compromised, the images cannot be received and you will not be able to see.

The diagram above shows a normal eye with the retina still intact and attached.

What causes retinal detachment?

The retina can detach when the vitreous, the jelly fluid that fills your eye, becomes more liquefied in which the sac shrinks and where movement increases the risk that the liquefied vitreous can tug onto the retina layer and cause it to detach. If the retinal layer is not healthy and normal, such as holes in the retina, there is more risk that the retina can detach as the fluid can leak through the retinal layer. Those at risk for retinal detachment include very near sighted eyes, aphakic eyes (people with no lens in the eye or those with intraocular lens replacement from cataract surgery), genetic history of retinal detachment in the family, and inflammation of the eyes.


Recent research shows in Japan, 10 in 100,000 people have retinal detachment every year. In China, the number is more at about 11-12 in 100,000 people per year. Most of the people fall in the range between ages 40 to 70 years old.

Symptoms and Signs

Flashes of light especially when moving the eyes around, this comes from the vitreous tugging at the retina.

Black curtain like film over your vision, this comes from the retina starting to detach

Lots of black floaters, this comes from the retina starting to detach

Blurry vision, this comes from the retina detaching from the important part of the eye that enables focusing of images

The diagram above shows the retina detaching that comes from a retinal hole and fluid leaking into the retina.

What to do if you see these signs and symptoms

If you experience any of these symptoms, you must see an ophthalmologist immediately. If you wait, the retina will detach fully and it may be too late for surgery and the vision loss is permanent.


An annual eye exam with dilation of the eyes is necessary to evaluate the health of your retina in order to see if you are at risk for retinal detachment. If there is a hole in your retina, prevention could be made by having laser to close up the holes to reduce the risk of retina detaching. Without a comprehensive eye exam, you will not be able to tell if you are at risk for retinal detachment.

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