Retinal detachment

Retinal detachment occurs when the two layers of the retina, the sensory retina and the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE), become separated from each other. Retinal detachment can lead to severe vision loss or blindness.

Although retinal detachment can occur at any age, it is most common in older adults.

When a retinal detachment occurs, the person may notice:

  • A new shadow or curtain effect across part of the visual field that does not go away. Because detachments usually affect peripheral (side) vision first, the person may not notice a problem until the detachment has gotten bigger.
  • New or sudden vision loss. Vision loss caused by retinal detachment tends to get worse over time. Sudden vision loss is a medical emergency.

Warning signs that a person may soon have a retinal detachment include:

  • Floaters in the field of vision. Floaters appear as dark specks, globs, strings, or dots that seem to drift through the field of vision. Floaters are often harmless, but a new floater or a shower of floaters needs to be evaluated by a doctor.
  • Flashes of light or sparks. Like floaters, flashes of light are often harmless but should be evaluated.

Retinal detachment may require immediate surgery to prevent permanent vision loss. Surgery can repair most retinal detachments and restore good vision in many cases.

Last Updated: August 26, 2009

Author: Debby Golonka, MPH

Medical Review: Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & Christopher J. Rudnisky, MD, FRCSC - Ophthalmology

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