Open a PDF version to print this topic

HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Retinal detachment

Motunga ─ühuahua


See your optometrist, ophthalmologist or general practice team today if you have any of the four Fs.

You need to have these assessed urgently – on the same day. Over the weekend you can be assessed at an after-hours clinic, and they can refer you to an ophthalmologist urgently if necessary.

The retina is the layer of tissue at the back of your eye that detects shape and colour. When the retina separates from the inner lining within the eye, it's known as retinal detachment.

This can cause loss of vision, though this can be prevented if the detachment is found and treated early.

Retinal detachment isn't common – it affects around one out of every 10,000 people. But you have an increased risk of retinal detachment if you:

Causes of retinal detachment

The most common cause of retinal tears is the shrinking of the vitreous (a thick, jelly-like substance within the eyeball that keeps it firm). As the vitreous shrinks, it pulls the retina away from the back of the eye.

Another cause of retinal detachment is scar tissue caused by inflammation. The scar tissue can tug on the retina, causing it to pull away from the underlying tissue. This can be a complication of diabetic eye or other eye diseases.

Rarely, fluid can seep out of blood vessels in the eye and cause the retina to be separated.

Symptoms of retinal detachment

Retinal detachments are painless but serious. Symptoms may include:

Diagnosing retinal detachment

You'll need to have your eyes examined by your general practice team, optometrist or a doctor who specialises in eye care (an ophthalmologist).

They will check your vision and look at the back of your eye.

Treating retinal detachment

If your retina has a tear in it but isn't fully detached, it may be possible to "glue" the retina back using laser or freezing therapy (cryotherapy). This may prevent a full retinal detachment. It's a simple procedure done using a local anaesthetic.

If you have a full retinal detachment, you're likely to need surgery to fix it, and you'll get the best results if it's done as soon as possible.

Your vision is likely to improve after your retina is reattached, but it may not fully return.

Reducing your risk of retinal detachment

The best way to reduce your risk of retinal detachment is to have regular eye examinations. The New Zealand Association of Optometrists recommends healthy adults should have an eye examination every two to three years. After the age of 65 you should have them more often to make sure any sight-threatening conditions, such as glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration are diagnosed and treated early.

If you have any eye problems or are at risk of eye problems, your eye specialist may advise you to have checks more often. If you have diabetes, you should check that you're part of the retinal screening programme.

  HealthInfo recommends the following pages

Adapted by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed March 2023.


Page reference: 139739

Review key: HIFRT-139694