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What is the retina?

Imagine that your eye is like a camera, and the retina is the film. The retina is a fine sheet of nerve tissue lining the inside of the eye. Rays of light enter the eye and are focused on the retina by the lens. The retina produces a picture, which is sent along the optic nerve for the brain to interpret. It's rather like the film in the camera being developed so that pictures can be produced.

What is retinal detachment?

Usually the retina is attached to the inner surface of the eye. If there is a tear or hole in the retina then fluid can get underneath it. This weakens the attachment so that the retina becomes detached - rather like wallpaper peeling off a damp wall.

When this happens the retina cannot compose a clear picture from the incoming rays and vision becomes blurred and dim.

Who is more likely to get it?

Detachment of the retina happens more to middle aged, short-sighted people. It is quite uncommon however and only about one person in ten thousand is affected.

Very rarely, younger people can have a weakness of the retina.

What are the symptoms?

The most common symptom is a shadow spreading across the vision of one eye. You may also experience bright flashes of light and/or showers of dark spots called floaters. These symptoms are never painful.  Many people experience flashes or floaters and these are not necessarily a cause for alarm. However if they are severe and seem to be getting worse, and/or you are losing vision then you should see a doctor urgently. Prompt treatment can often minimise the damage to your eye.

What is the treatment?

If you get help early, it may only be necessary to have a laser or freezing treatment. This is usually performed under a local anaesthetic.  Often however, an operation to repair the hole in the retina will be needed. This is usually done under a general anaesthetic and can be repaired with a single operation in 90 per cent of cases. This does not usually cause much pain but your eye will be sore and swollen for a few days afterwards. You will usually need to stay in hospital for two or three days after your operation.

Can retinal detachment be prevented?

If your family has a history of retinal detachment, or your doctor finds a weakness in your retina then preventative laser or freezing treatment may be needed. In most cases however it is not possible to take preventive action.  Retinal detachment does not happen as a result of straining your eyes, bending or heavy lifting.

Am I likely to get one in the other eye?

If you have had a retinal detachment in one eye, you are at increased risk of developing one in the other eye. But there is only about a one in ten chance of this happening.


This information has been reproduced with the kind permission of the RNIB and the Royal College of Ophthalmologists.