Detached Retina

September 15, 2019

The retina in our eye is a thin layer of tissue at the back of the eye containing cells that are sensitive to light and that trigger nerve impulses that pass via the optic nerve to the brain. In the brain, this input is decoded and a visual image is formed.

Particularly as we age, the retina can detach from the back of the eye. This is called a detached retina and it is an emergency situation. We can repair a detached retina at Millennium Park Eye Center.

What causes retinal detachment?

There are three types of retinal detachments: rhegmatogenous, tractional, and exudative.

  • Rhegmatogenous detachments are the most common type. They are caused by a hole or tear in the retina that allows fluid to pass through and collect underneath the retina. This causes the retina to pull away from the underlying tissues. The areas where the retina detaches lose their blood supply and stop working, causing the patient to lose vision.

Simple aging usually causes rhegmatogenous detachments. As we age, the gel-like material that fills the inside of the eye, the vitreous, can shrink or become more liquid instead of gel. This causes the vitreous to separate from the surface of the retina. This usually happens without any problems. But sometimes, the connection between the vitreous and the retina doesn’t separate cleanly. As the vitreous separates, it may tug on the retina with enough force to create a tear. Fluid then can move behind the retina and lead to detachment.

  • Tractional detachments occur when scar tissue grows on the retina’s surface, causing the retina to pull away from the back of the eye. This is usually an effect of diabetes.
  • Exudative detachments happen when fluid accumulates beneath the retina, but there aren’t any holes or tears to allow the fluid in. Exudative detachments can be caused by age-related macular degeneration, eye injury, tumors, or inflammatory disorders.

What are the symptoms of a detached or torn retina?

There isn’t any pain when this happens, but there will be warning signs before and after:

  • Sudden appearance of many floaters
  • Flashes of light in one or both eyes
  • Blurred vision
  • Gradually reduced peripheral vision
  • A curtain-like shadow over your visual field


Surgery is almost always the form of treatment necessary to repair a torn or detached retina. For a detached retina, the most common surgery is to inject air or gas into your eye. This is known as pneumatic retinopexy. Your Millennium Park surgeon injects a bubble of air or gas into the center part of the eye (the vitreous cavity). The bubble pushes the area of the retina containing the hole or holes back against the wall of the eye, stopping the flow of fluid behind the retina. A freezing probe then repairs the retinal break.

Do you have symptoms of retinal detachment? This is a medical emergency so that you don’t permanently lose vision. Call us at (312) 996-2020 and we’ll see you immediately.


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