Skip to main navigation Skip to main content Skip to footer For Medicare For Providers For Brokers For Employers Español For Individuals & Families: For Individuals & Families Medical Dental Other Supplemental Explore coverage through work How to Buy Health Insurance Types of Dental Insurance Open Enrollment vs. Special Enrollment See all topics Shop for Medicare plans Member Guide Find a Doctor Log in to myCigna
Home Knowledge Center Wellness Library Retinal Detachment

Retinal Detachment

Condition Basics

What is retinal detachment?

Retinal detachment is an eye problem that happens when the retina, a thin membrane of nerve tissue that lines the back of the eye, comes off (detaches).

The nerve cells in the retina normally detect light entering the eye and send signals to the brain about what the eye sees. But when the retina detaches, it no longer works as it should. It can cause blurred and lost vision. Retinal detachment requires medical care right away.

What causes it?

Retinal detachment is caused by:

Tears or holes in the retina.

A tear in the retina is the most common cause of retinal detachment. These tears can happen when fluids collect under the retina. Tears can also be caused by posterior vitreous detachment (PVD), when the vitreous gel shrinks and separates from the retina. An eye or head injury or other eye disorders may also cause these tears or holes.

Traction on the retina.

If tissue builds up between the vitreous gel and the retina, it can pull the retina away from the back of the eye. The pulling is called traction.

Fluid buildup under the retina.

This fluid buildup can cause the retina to come off the back of the eye. Fluid buildup may be caused by inflammation or disease in the retina, in the layer just beneath the retina (choroid), in blood vessels, or in tissues in the eye.

What are the symptoms?

Many people see floaters and flashes of light before they have symptoms of retinal detachment. Floaters are spots, specks, and lines that float through your field of vision. Flashes are brief sparkles or lightning streaks that are easiest to see when your eyes are closed. They often appear at the edges of your visual field. Floaters and flashes don't always mean that you will have a retinal detachment. But they may be a warning sign, so it's best to be checked by a doctor right away.

In rare cases, a retinal detachment happens without warning. The first sign of detachment may be a shadow across part of your vision that doesn't go away. Or you may have new and sudden loss of side (peripheral) vision that gets worse over time.

How is it diagnosed?

To diagnose retinal detachment, your doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms. You will be asked about your past eye problems and risk factors. The doctor will also test your near and distance vision (visual acuity) and side (peripheral) vision. These routine vision tests don't find retinal detachment itself. But they can find problems that could lead to or result from retinal detachment.

A doctor can usually see a retinal tear or detachment while checking the retina using ophthalmoscopy. This test allows the doctor to see inside the back of the eye using a magnifying tool with a light.

If a retinal tear or detachment involves blood vessels in the retina, you may have bleeding in the middle of the eye. In these cases, your doctor can view the retina using ultrasound. This is a test that uses sound waves to form an image of the retina on a computer screen.

How is retinal detachment treated?

Surgery is the only way to reattach the retina. Without treatment, vision loss can progress from minor to severe. It can even progress to blindness. Loss of vision can happen within a few hours or days.

This condition needs care right away. How soon you need surgery usually depends on if the retinal detachment has or could spread far enough to affect central vision.

There are many ways to do the surgery. They include using lasers, air bubbles, or a freezing probe to seal a tear in the retina and reattach the retina.

What kind of surgery is done for it?

Surgery is the only way to reattach the retina. There are many ways to do the surgery. They include:

Pneumatic retinopexy.

The doctor injects a gas bubble into the eyeball. The gas bubble lightly presses the detached retina to the wall of the eye. The eye doctor then uses a freezing probe or laser to seal the tear.

Scleral buckling surgery.

The doctor places a piece of silicone sponge, rubber, or semi-hard plastic on the outer layer of your eye and sews it in place. This relieves pulling on the retina and prevents tears from getting worse.

Vitrectomy.

The doctor removes the vitreous gel from the eye. This gives the doctor better access to remove scar tissue from the retina, repair holes, and push the retina back onto the wall of the eye.

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated, disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. Learn how we develop our content.

© 1995-2022 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.

Related Links

Eye Problems, Noninjury Outpatient Services Anesthesia Eye Injuries

<cipublic-spinner variant="large"><span>Loading…</span></cipublic-spinner>

Page Footer

I want to...

Get an ID card File a claim View my claims and EOBs Check coverage under my plan See prescription drug list Find an in-network doctor, dentist, or facility Find a form Find 1095-B tax form information View the Cigna Glossary Contact Cigna

Audiences

Individuals and Families Medicare Employers Brokers Providers

Secure Member Sites

myCigna member portal Health Care Provider portal Cigna for Employers Client Resource Portal Cigna for Brokers

Cigna Company Information

About Cigna Company Profile Careers Newsroom Investors Suppliers Third Party Administrators International Evernorth

 Cigna. All rights reserved.

Privacy Legal Product Disclosures Cigna Company Names Customer Rights Accessibility Non-Discrimination Notice [PDF] Language Assistance [PDF] Report Fraud Sitemap

Disclaimer

Individual and family medical and dental insurance plans are insured by Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company (CHLIC), Cigna HealthCare of Arizona, Inc., Cigna HealthCare of Illinois, Inc., and Cigna HealthCare of North Carolina, Inc. Group health insurance and health benefit plans are insured or administered by CHLIC, Connecticut General Life Insurance Company (CGLIC), or their affiliates (see a listing of the legal entities  that insure or administer group HMO, dental HMO, and other products or services in your state). Accidental Injury, Critical Illness, and Hospital Care plans or insurance policies are distributed exclusively by or through operating subsidiaries of Cigna Corporation, are administered by Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company, and are insured by either (i) Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company (Bloomfield, CT); (ii) Life Insurance Company of North America (“LINA”) (Philadelphia, PA); or (iii) New York Life Group Insurance Company of NY (“NYLGICNY”) (New York, NY), formerly known as Cigna Life Insurance Company of New York. The Cigna name, logo, and other Cigna marks are owned by Cigna Intellectual Property, Inc. LINA and NYLGICNY are not affiliates of Cigna.

All insurance policies and group benefit plans contain exclusions and limitations. For availability, costs and complete details of coverage, contact a licensed agent or Cigna sales representative. This website is not intended for residents of New Mexico.

Selecting these links will take you away from Cigna.com to another website, which may be a non-Cigna website. Cigna may not control the content or links of non-Cigna websites. Details