What is retinal detachment?

A retinal detachment is an emergency. It needs to be assessed as soon as possible so that your ophthalmologist (eye doctor) can make decisions about your treatment.

Retinal detachment occurs when the retina separates from the back of the inside of the eye, rather like wallpaper peeling off a damp wall. The retina needs to be attached to the back of the eye to survive and work properly, so if a retinal detachment is not detected and treated quickly it may result in the loss of some or all the vision in your eye. There are three main types of retinal detachment based on how they are caused retinal holes and tears, scar tissue and fluid.

Only about 10 to 15 per 100,000 have a retinal detachment each year. They mostly occur in people between the ages of 40 to 70 and are very rare in children.

The following symptoms can be the first signs of a retinal detachment:

  • floaters
  • flashing lights
  • a dark shadow in your vision
  • blurred vision.

You may have these symptoms but not develop a retinal detachment, there isn’t a way to tell what is causing these symptoms unless your eye is examined. 

A retinal detachment can cause a permanent loss of vision so it’s best to be cautious and have these symptoms checked, as soon as possible, within 24 hours of noticing any new symptoms. You can do this by having your eyes examined urgently by your optometrist (optician) or by attending Accident & Emergency (A&E) or eye casualty. You can also call 111 for advice about your symptoms and where to go to get your eyes checked.

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