Retinal Detachment - Symptoms

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What are retinal detachment symptoms and signs?

Flashing lights and floaters may be the initial symptoms of a retinal detachment or of a retinal tear that precedes the detachment itself. Anyone who is beginning to experience these symptoms should see an eye doctor (ophthalmologist) for a retinal exam. In the exam, drops are used to dilate the patient's pupils to make a more detailed exam easier. The symptoms of flashing lights and floaters may often be unassociated with a tear or detachment and can merely result from a separation of the vitreous gel from the retina. This condition is called a posterior vitreous detachment (PVD). Although a PVD occurs commonly, there are no tears associated with the condition most of the time.

The flashing lights are caused by the vitreous gel pulling on the retina or a looseness of the vitreous, which allows the vitreous gel to bump against the retina. The lights are often described as resembling brief lightning streaks in the outside edges (periphery) of the eye. The floaters are caused by condensations (small solidifications) in the vitreous gel and frequently are described by patients as spots, strands, or little flies. Some patients even want to use a flyswatter to eliminate these pesky floaters. There is no safe treatment to make the floaters disappear. Floaters are usually not associated with tears of the retina.

If the patient experiences a shadow or curtain that affects any part of the vision, this can indicate that a retinal tear has progressed to a detached retina. In this situation, one should immediately consult an eye doctor since time can be critical. The goal for the ophthalmologist is to make the diagnosis and treat the retinal tear or detachment before the central macular area of the retina detaches.

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See what others are saying

Comment from: JanSooCan, 55-64 Female (Patient) Published: September 11

The only symptom I had before discovering my retinal detachment was seeing floaters. I saw what looked like fruit flies. There was no pain at all.

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Comment from: MD, 35-44 Male (Patient) Published: December 22

I noticed a transparent floater for a few weeks in my right eye so I went to see an optometrist who agreed it was just a floater. I wasn't happy with his diagnosis so I went to see a retinal surgeon and had a gas vitrectomy to repair the retinal detachment, the next day. The surgeon told me nothing about the recovery process nor the risks involved except to guarantee a cataract in 2 years. Most of my eyesight has been saved but I have lost 20 percent of my peripheral vision due to the surgery. Apparently in some people the gas dehydrates the retina. I'm -8.5 and still getting worse!

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