Detached Retina: Signs, Symptoms, and Complications
A detached retina often occurs as a progression of a tear or rip in the retina.
The retina is responsible for sharp, detailed vision required to do things such as reading, driving, and working on the computer, so when the retina detaches, it can no longer activate the nerve signals properly. The result is blurry vision, or—if immediate treatment is not implemented—a detached retina can cause a partial or complete loss of vision.
Early warning signs and symptoms of a detached retina should prompt a person to seek immediate medical intervention to avoid serious complications.
Symptoms of a detached retina, which typically involves one eye, are often associated with vision.
These symptoms include:
- Floaters that may appear as grey spots, strings, or spider webs floating in your field of vision
- Flashes of light
- What seems like a dark curtain or veil moving over your whole field of vision
- Blurry vision
- Seeing a shadow in the side of your visual field
Pain and a Detached Retina
There are usually no symptoms of pain involved with a detached retina. This is a primary reason people often avoid getting early intervention when they experience the warning signs.
As retinal detachment worsens, the symptoms become more severe:
- You may experience blurred vision that occurs whenever you try to focus your eyes on a single object.
- Eventually, the vision will become severely cloudy, interfering with everyday tasks such as reading or driving.
- When the retina completely detaches, it causes a partial or complete loss of vision in the affected eye.
As retinal detachment progresses, often a shadow that appears to have a curtain effect draws across part of the field of vision. This shadow does not go away. This indicates that the initial retinal tear has progressed to a larger portion of the retina, which has become detached.
Call Your Doctor
Because these progressive signs and symptoms continue to worsen and can suddenly result in vision loss, it’s vital to seek immediate medical attention whenever any signs of a detached retina, including early warning signs, occur.
A sudden retinal detachment that immediately results in complete vision loss rarely occurs without some type of warning such as flashes or floaters.
More often, the symptoms are gradual and/or involve some sort of warning sign, as mentioned above. But there are cases of partial retinal detachments without symptoms. This usually involves people who are at risk for retinal detachment, like those who have high amounts of nearsightedness.
Loss of vision is the most severe and common complication of a detached retina.
When the retina detaches, it separates from the layer of the eye that provides its blood supply. Unless treatment is administered in a timely fashion, the retina becomes permanently damaged as a result of a lack of blood. Adequate blood supply is required to deliver vital oxygen and nutrients to the retina.
The type of vision loss depends on where the detachment occurred in the eye. For example, if the retina detached in the macula, an oval area near the center of the retina that is responsible for clear central vision, a frequent complication is the loss of central vision.
Another common complication of having a detached retina in one eye is the development of a retinal detachment that can occur in the other eye or the same eye.
According to a 2018 study, up to 10% of cases require additional interventions to ultimately repair recurrent detachments.
When retinal detachment occurs a second time, it usually occurs within a few months of the initial surgery and can often be successfully repaired with subsequent surgical treatment
When to See a Doctor
It is imperative to see your healthcare provider, preferably an eye care provider, whenever you have any signs or symptoms of retinal detachment, particularly when you:
- Experience one large floater or numerous floaters (showers) that appear suddenly or are persistent
- Have flashes of light or floaters that occur suddenly or increase in great numbers
- Notice a loss of vision
If you experience any of the aforementioned symptoms, note that it’s particularly important to consult with your doctor right away, particularly when you are in a high-risk category.
People who are considered high risk for a detached retina include those who:
- Have had a previous retinal detachment in one eye
- Have a family history of retinal detachment
- Have severe myopia (nearsightedness)
- Have had previous eye surgery or an eye disease
- Have had an eye injury
- Have another eye condition/disease that is being treated or monitored
- Have diabetes
A Word From Verywell
Retinal detachment can progress in a very short period (only 24 hours in some instances). The condition can occur suddenly when the retina detaches all at once instead of gradually. Statistics show that up to half of all people who have a retinal tear will go on to experience retinal detachment.
When it comes to symptoms of a torn or detached retina, it’s important to understand that taking a watchful waiting approach is not recommended. Sudden vision loss (including cloudy vision or partial vision loss) is a medical emergency. You may need to visit an emergency room or urgent care facility if you cannot get an appointment to see your healthcare provider right away. Permanent vision loss can occur if treatment is not provided within 24 hours of symptoms of a detached retina.
Treatment of retinal detachment is known to be very successful, particularly if the condition is diagnosed early on. In some instances, relatively simple non-invasive treatments (such as laser surgery or injections) work well. The key to successful outcomes is early diagnosis and prompt treatment to avoid permanent vision loss.