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.
- 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
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.
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.
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).
- Read more about how to tell DVA about a medical condition
- Find out more about retinal detachment on the NHS website
More useful links
The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.
For further information see terms and conditions.