The retina lines the inside back wall of
the eye. It is a thin tissue made up of
layers of cells. The retina contains the
light-sensitive cells that tell the brain
what you are looking at. It is lined on
its front surface by the vitreous. This is
a clear gel made largely of water and
collagen fibers. It fills the center of the
eye and lies between the retina and the
A detached retina starts when the vitreous comes away from the retina. This may
lead to a tear of the retina. Fluid can pass through the hole or tear and lift the
retina away from the back wall of the eye. When the retina pulls away or detaches
from the wall of the eye, vision is lost or impaired.
Who is affected?
While a detached retina can happen at any age, it most often occurs in people over
the age of 50. It is the result of changes in our eyes as we age. It is more common
in eyes that have had cataract surgery and in very nearsighted eyes. It is seldom
caused by eye trauma.
What are the warning signs?
ξ Light “flashes” and blurred vision
ξ The presence of a “veil” or shadow over part of the field of vision
ξ Large “floaters” or spots that travel across the field of vision. These could
mean that the retina is torn or the vitreous fibers are clumped.
You should report any of these warning signs to the eye doctor right away. Prompt
treatment may be needed to maintain your sight.
How is it treated?
Small holes and tears and very small detached retinas are often treated with laser in
the doctor’s office. In laser photocoagulation, pinpoints of laser light are used to
create tiny burns around the hole to “weld” the retina back to the wall of the eye.
Cryopexy is much the same, but instead of using heat, it freezes the area around
Surgical repair: If a great deal of fluid has flowed through the tear, a large
detachment may occur and surgery may be needed. To repair the retinal
detachment, the hole or tear must be sealed. A bubble of gas may be injected into
the eye to press the detached retina against the wall of the eye. Treatment includes
the use of laser or freezing treatment to seal around the hole. Alternatively, a band
of silicone may be placed around the eye to indent the eye’s outer wall to help
bring the retina in contact with the back wall. The fluid beneath the retina may
need to be drained. In many cases, the vitreous must be removed and a gas bubble
used to hold the retina in place against the back wall of the eye.
Ninety percent of detached retinas can be repaired. This does not mean that vision
will be as it was before. There may be some loss in the quality of vision. If treated
early, chances are greater that your vision will be restored. If the retina cannot be
reattached, vision will continue to decrease and finally will be lost in the eye.
University Station Eye Clinic, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday
When the clinic is closed, your call will be forwarded to the hospital paging
operator. Ask for the “Eye Resident on Call”. Give the operator your name and
phone number with area code. The doctor will call you back.
If you live out of the area, call 1-800-323-8942 and ask to be transferred to the
Please call if you have any questions or concerns.
Your health care team may have given you this information as part of your care. If so, please use it and call if you
have any questions. If this information was not given to you as part of your care, please check with your doctor. This
is not medical advice. This is not to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Because each
person’s health needs are different, you should talk with your doctor or others on your health care team when using
this information. If you have an emergency, please call 911. Copyright © 1/2016 University of Wisconsin Hospitals
and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#5689