Retinal Detachment

What You Need to Know

The retina is a layer of light sensitive tissue which lines the inside of the back of your eye. While the details of eye anatomy and what goes on inside your eyes and brain when you look at an object might be hard to fully understand, the function of your retina is pretty simple. When you look at something, a red apple for example, light waves bounce off the surface of the apple and travel into your eye through the cornea (the clear covering over your eye) then through the pupil and lens before they strike the retina at the back of your eye. The retina then converts the light waves into electrical impulses which then travel through your optic nerve to your brain where they are translated into an image of the apple. So you can easily see how a healthy retina is essential for clear vision.

When your retina becomes detached, this simply means the retinal tissue gets pulled away from the back of the eye, much like when you peel a boiled egg and the thin membrane covering the egg gets torn and pulled away from the surface as you peel the shell away.


A retinal detachment is a medical emergency and if you experience any of the following symptoms you need to get to an eye care professional immediately:

~ A sudden or gradual increase in light flashes and/or the number of floaters in your eye. Floaters are little specks or particles that you see floating about in your field of vision.

~ The appearance of a ‘curtain’ over your field of vision

~ A sudden decrease in your vision.

The retina can also become torn, and if left untreated, can lead to detachment. Symptoms of a tear in your retina are similar to detachment, especially an increase in floaters and light flashes. Either way, these are both very serious eye conditions and need the attention of an eye care professional immediately. If left untreated, retinal detachment can lead to a permanent loss of vision.


Although a detached retina can happen at any age, it is most common in people over the age of 40. Men have detached retinas more than women and the condition is also more common in Whites than African Americans.

You are also more likely to experience a detached retina if you are extremely nearsighted, you have had a detached retina in your other eye or a family history of the condition, you have had cataract surgery, an eye injury or suffer from various eye diseases.

How Is Retinal Detachment Treated?

Small tears can be treated right in our office by our retinal specialist David W. Switzer Jr. MD with either a laser or a freeze treatment. Retinal detachments are treated with surgery which may require a hospital stay as the surgical treatment is more complicated. With timely and proper treatment, over 90 percent of retinal detachments can be successfully treated, although sometimes a second procedure is needed.

And even with the best of treatment, the final results in terms of how well you will be able to see may not be known for several months. Sometimes, even with many skilled attempts to repair the damage, the treatments just don’t work and vision may be lost.

The best results happen when treatment occurs as soon after the tear or detachment as possible. That is why it is so important for you, or anyone you know, who experiences symptoms, to get to an eye care professional as soon as possible.

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