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Retinal tear or detachment


If you experience any of these symptoms seek medical help urgently.

  • Floaters –sudden appearance of dark-coloured spots, specks, flecks, thread-like strands, squiggly lines, and ‘cobwebs’
  • Flashing lights – sudden onset
  • Blurred or distorted vision
  • Shadow or curtain effect in your peripheral vision

Your retina is at the back of your eye, and it turns light into a signal that your brain can read as an image. As we get older, the vitreous jelly in the middle of your eye starts to thicken and shrink, a condition known as posterior vitreous detachment (PVD). It can then pull on the retina at the back of the eye, causing a retinal tear or worse, a detachment.

As the vitreous jelly separates from the retina, it may tug with enough force to create a retinal tear, this is often accompanied by flashing lights. If the tear remains untreated, fluid from the vitreous cavity can enter the tear into the space behind the retina, causing a retinal detachment. 

By way of comparison, it is like water leaking into a tear in wallpaper, which might then detach from the wall. A retinal tear is usually painless, which means it is very important that you are aware of the symptoms (which usually occur prior to full detachment) and contact your ophthalmologist before the situation worsens and a full retinal detachment or loss of sight occurs.

When a retinal detachment occurs, you will experience the sensation of a ‘curtain’ pulling across your field of vision from side to centre. Once this ‘curtain’ enlarges over a few days and it reaches the macula, at the very centre of the retina, vision will become very blurred and vision is impaired to the extent that you can see only something directly in front of your face.

What are the risk factors for retinal tear and retinal detachment?

Two key risk factors for retinal tear and/or detachment are related to your eye’s anatomy: you may have a very sticky vitreous jelly, and/or a weak and thin retina. The latter is often found in patients with myopia or short-sightedness.

If your eye has one or both of these risk factors then you have a high risk of the vitreous jelly pulling and tearing the retina. If this tear goes untreated, then you risk a retinal detachment occurring.

A key risk factor for retinal detachment is a retinal tear. Tears occur in different ways, they might form round holes or U-shaped tears and like wallpaper, if fluid enters the tear then fluid will accumulate at the back of the eye and the retina will peel away causing a retinal detachment.

If you would like to read in more detail about retinal detachment and its risk factors, please click here.

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