Retinal Detachment

  • Medical Author:
    Andrew A. Dahl, MD, FACS

    Andrew A. Dahl, MD, is a board-certified ophthalmologist. Dr. Dahl's educational background includes a BA with Honors and Distinction from Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT, and an MD from Cornell University, where he was selected for Alpha Omega Alpha, the national medical honor society. He had an internal medical internship at the New York Hospital/Cornell Medical Center.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

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What are retinal detachment causes and risk factors?

Studies have shown that the incidence of retinal detachments caused by tears in the retina is fairly low, affecting approximately one in 10,000 people each year. Many retinal tears do not progress to retinal detachment. Nevertheless, many risk factors for developing retinal detachments are recognized, including certain diseases of the eyes (discussed below), cataract surgery, and trauma to the eye. Retinal detachments can occur at any age but are most common in adults 40 years and older who are highly nearsighted (myopic) and in older people following cataract surgery.

Which diseases of the eyes predispose to the development of a retinal detachment?

  • Lattice degeneration of the retina is a type of thinning of the outside edges of the retina, which occurs in 7% to 10% of the general population. The lattice degeneration, so-called because the thinned retina resembles the crisscross pattern of a lattice, often contains small holes. Lattice degeneration is more common in people with nearsightedness (myopia). This tendency to lattice degeneration occurs because myopic eyes are larger than normal eyes and, therefore, the peripheral retina is stretched more thinly. Fortunately, only about 1% of patients with lattice degeneration go on to develop a retinal detachment. All patients with lattice degeneration of the retina should be informed about this condition and cautioned about the importance of being seen by an ophthalmologist immediately if they develop sudden floaters, flashes, or a cloud in their vision.
  • High myopia (greater than 5 or 6 diopters of nearsightedness) increases the risk of a retinal detachment. In fact, the risk increases to 2.4% as compared to a 0.06% risk for a normal eye at 60 years of age. (Diopters are units of measurement that indicate the power of the lens to focus rays of light.) Cataract surgery or other operations of the eye can further increase this risk in those with high myopia.
  • People taking certain kinds of eyedrops have an increased risk of developing a retinal detachment. Pilocarpine, which for many years was a mainstay of therapy for glaucoma, has long been associated with retinal detachment. Moreover, by constricting the pupil, pilocarpine makes the diagnostic exam of the peripheral retina more difficult, possibly leading to a delay in the diagnosis.
  • Individuals with chronic inflammation of the eye (uveitis) are at increased risk of developing retinal detachment.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/10/2016

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