Retinal detachment

Retinal detachment happens when the thin sensory lining of your eye (the retina) begins to pull away from the back of the eye. It can cause blindness in the affected eye. If you suddenly have problems with your vision, you need to see a doctor urgently (see below).

Warning signs and symptoms

The retina lies at the back of your eye and sends signals to the brain, allowing it to see.

It is attached to blood vessels that supply it with oxygen and nutrients. Without a blood supply, the nerve cells die, which leads to a loss of sight.

Most people will experience warning signs that their retina is at risk of detaching before they lose their sight.

These include:

  • the sudden appearance of floaters – black dots, specks or streaks that float across your field of vision (usually only one eye is affected)
  • a cobweb effect of lots of little floaters – others report a single large black floater that looks like a housefly
  • sudden short flashes of light in the affected eye lasting no more than a second
  • blurring or distortion of your vision

Without treatment, sight in the affected eye will start to deteriorate.

Retinal detachment usually only occurs in one eye. If your eye is affected, there's an up to 1 in 10 chance that retinal detachment will happen in your other eye.

When to seek medical advice

Contact your GP immediately if you get any of these warning signs. If this isn't possible, call GP out of hours service for advice.

If you experience a sudden loss of vision or your vision gets worse suddenly, you will likely need immediate referral to a hospital to see a consultant surgeon in ophthalmology (eye specialist).

If you can’t get through to a GP, go to an emergency department.  

Treatment

The quicker retinal detachment is treated, the less risk there is of permanently losing some or all of your vision in the affected eye.

Most detached retinas can be successfully reattached with surgery.

It can take months to fully recover from surgery on your eye. During this period you may have reduced vision.

This may mean you may not be able to do some of your usual activities, such as driving, see below or flying.

Causes of retinal detachment

Retinal detachment occurs in about 10-15 per 100,000 people each year.

It is most often the result of the retina becoming thinner and more brittle with age and pulling away from the back of the eye.

As retinal detachment is associated with ageing, most cases affect older adults aged between 60 and 70.

Retinal detachment caused by an injury can affect people of any age, including children.

Driving

If you have a retinal detachment, it could affect your ability to drive.

If you've had or currently suffer from a medical condition or disability that may affect your driving you must tell the Driver & Vehicle Agency (DVA).

The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.

For further information see terms and conditions.

This page was reviewed January 2019

This page is due for review March 2021

Health conditions A to Z

Search by health condition or symptoms

Or find conditions beginning with …

Share this page

What do you want to do?
What is your question about?
Do you want a reply?
Your email address
To reply to you, we need your email address
Your feedback

We will not reply to your feedback.  Don't include any personal or financial information, for example National Insurance, credit card numbers, or phone numbers.

This feedback form is for issues with the nidirect website only.

You can use it to report a problem or suggest an improvement to a webpage.

If you have a question about a government service or policy, you should contact the relevant government organisation directly as we don’t have access to information about you held by government departments.

You must be aged 13 years or older - if you’re younger, ask someone with parental responsibility to send the feedback for you.

The nidirect privacy notice applies to any information you send on this feedback form.

Don't include any personal or financial information, for example National Insurance, credit card numbers, or phone numbers.

Plain text only, 750 characters maximum.
Plain text only, 750 characters maximum.

What to do next

Comments or queries about angling can be emailed to anglingcorrespondence@daera-ni.gov.uk 

What to do next

If you have a comment or query about benefits, you will need to contact the government department or agency which handles that benefit.  Contacts for common benefits are listed below.

Carer's Allowance

Call 0800 587 0912
Email 
dcs.incomingpostteamdhc2@nissa.gsi.gov.uk

Discretionary support / Short-term benefit advance

Call 0800 587 2750 
Email 
customerservice.unit@communities-ni.gov.uk

Disability Living Allowance

Call 0800 587 0912 
Email dcs.incomingpostteamdhc2@nissa.gsi.gov.uk

Employment and Support Allowance

Call 0800 587 1377

Jobseeker’s Allowance

Contact your local Jobs & Benefits office

Personal Independence Payment

Call 0800 587 0932

If your query is about another benefit, select ‘Other’ from the drop-down menu above.

What to do next

Comments or queries about the Blue Badge scheme can be emailed to bluebadges@infrastructure-ni.gov.uk or you can also call 0300 200 7818.

What to do next

For queries or advice about careers, contact the Careers Service.

What to do next

For queries or advice about Child Maintenance, contact the Child Maintenance Service.

What to do next

For queries or advice about claiming compensation due to a road problem, contact DFI Roads claim unit.

What to do next

For queries or advice about criminal record checks, email ani@accessni.gov.uk

What to do next

Application and payment queries can be emailed to ema_ni@slc.co.uk

What to do next

For queries or advice about employment rights, contact the Labour Relations Agency.

What to do next

For queries or advice about birth, death, marriage and civil partnership certificates and research, contact the General Register Office Northern Ireland (GRONI) by email gro_nisra@finance-ni.gov.uk

What to do next

For queries about:

If your query is about another topic, select ‘Other’ from the drop-down menu above.

What to do next

For queries or advice about passports, contact HM Passport Office.

What to do next

For queries or advice about Penalty Charge Notices (PCNs), including parking tickets and bus lane PCNs, email dcu@infrastructure-ni.gov.uk

What to do next

For queries or advice about pensions, contact the Northern Ireland Pension Centre.

What to do next

If you wish to report a problem with a road or street you can do so online in this section.

If you wish to check on a problem or fault you have already reported, contact DfI Roads.

What to do next

For queries or advice about historical, social or cultural records relating to Northern Ireland, use the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) enquiry service.

What to do next

For queries or advice about rates, email LPSCustomerTeam@lpsni.gov.uk

What to do next

For queries or advice about  60+ and Senior Citizen SmartPasses (which can be used to get concessionary travel on public transport), contact Smartpass - Translink.