Retinal Detachment: Symptoms & Signs

Medically Reviewed on 9/10/2019

Retinal detachment occurs when the retina, the thin layer of tissue that lines the inside of the back of the eye, becomes separated from its underlying tissue. Normally, light entering the eye is focused onto the retina by the cornea and the lens. This causes biochemical changes within layers of the retina that stimulate an electrical response within other layers of the retina. Nerves within the retina transmit these electrical signals to the brain through the optic nerve, allowing us to see. Retinal detachment causes symptoms of abnormal vision, such as seeing flashing lights or eye floaters. The sudden appearance of several eye floaters can signal retinal detachment. Symptoms almost always occur in one eye only.

Causes of retinal detachment

Most retinal detachments are a result of a break, hole, or tear in the retina. This can happen when the vitreous gel separates from its attachment to the retina, usually in the peripheral parts of the retina. The vitreous is a clear gel is located in the space in front of the retina. As the vitreous gel pulls loose, it will sometimes pull on the retina, and if the retina is weak, the retina will tear. Most retinal breaks are not due to injury. Cataract surgery is a risk factor for retinal detachment.

Other retinal detachment symptoms and signs

  • Eye Floaters
  • Flashes of Light in the Eye
  • Flashes of Light in the Peripheral Vision Fields
  • Shadow or Curtain Across One's Visual Field
  • Vision Changes


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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.