Retinal Detachment

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A retinal detachement occurs when the retina is pulled away from its normal position. The retina does not work when it is detached, so vision is blurred, like a camera picture would be blurry if the film were loose inside the camera.

A retinal detachment is a very serious problem that almost always causes blindness unless it is treated. The appearance of flashing lights, floaters, or a gray curtain moving across the field of vision are all indications of a retinal detachment. If any of these occur, you must see an ophthalmologist right away.

The following conditions increase the chance of getting a retinal detachment:

Almost all patients with retinal detachment require surgery to put the retina back in its proper position and these surgeries usually must be performed in the operating room.

Types of Surgery

Scleral buckle
A flexible band is placed around the eye to counteract the force pulling the retina out of place. The surgeon often drains the fluid under the detached retina, pulling the retina to its normal position against the back wall of the eye. This procedure is performed in an operating room.

Pneumatic retinopexy
A gas bubble is injected into a portion of the vitreous space inside the eye in order to push the retinal tear closed against the back wall of the eye. This surgery requires the patient to maintain a certain head position for a several days, depending on the location of the tear. The gas bubble will gradually disappear.

This surgery removes the vitreous gel from the eye, replacing it with a gas bubble, which is slowly replaced by the body's fluids. Unlike in pneumatic retinopexy, vitrectomy requires the eye to be filled with a gas bubble entirely.

Your body's own fluids will gradually replace the gas bubble. Also, sometimes vitrectomy is combined with a scleral buckle.

DO NOT FLY IN AN AIRPLANE OR TRAVEL UP TO HIGH ALTITUDES UNTIL YOU ARE TOLD THE GAS BUBBLE IS GONE! A rapid increase in altitude can cause a dangerous rise in eye pressure.

After surgery
Most retinal detachment surgery is successful, although a second operation is sometimes needed. If the retina cannot be reattached, the eye will continue to lose sight and ultimately become blind.

Vision may take many months to improve and in some cases may never fully return. Unfortunately, some patients do not recover any vision. The more severe the detachment, the less vision may return. For this reason, it is very important to see your ophthalmologist at the first sign of any trouble.