Retinal detachment

A retinal detachment happens when the retina separates from the back of the inside of your eye. If a retinal detachment isn’t detected or treated quickly it may result in a loss of some or all the vision in your eye.

If you develop any of the symptoms associated with retinal detachment you should see an eye health professional as soon as possible.

Download our Understanding Retinal Detachment guide

Our Understanding Retinal Detachment guide is accredited by the Royal College of Ophthalmologists. It’s designed to give you a detailed understanding of your eye condition and helpful advice on next steps.



Nicki talks about her experience of having a retinal detachment

Understanding retinal detachment 

Retinal detachment occurs when the retinal layers, specifically the sensory retina, separates from the retinal pigment epithelium.

The retina needs to be attached to the pigment epithelium to survive and work properly. If a retinal detachment is not detected and treated quickly it can lead to a loss of some or all the vision in your eye.


There are four main symptoms that could be the first signs of a retinal detachment:

  • floaters
  • flashing lights
  • a dark shadow in your vision
  • blurring of your vision.

If you experience any of these symptoms it’s important that you make an appointment to see your optometrist (optician) as soon as possible and within 24 hours. These symptoms aren’t always a sign of retinal detachment, but the only way to know what is causing them is to have your eye examined.

If you are not assessed and treated as soon as possible you could lose the sight in your eye. 

Floaters are caused by debris in the vitreous gel casting a shadow on the retina. The brain sees this as an object floating around space. Floaters are common and most people can expect to get them as they get older. If you experience a dramatic increase in the number of floaters or notice showers of dust-like floaters it could be a sign that changes are happening at the back of your eye. 

Flashing lights
Flashing lights occur most commonly around the edges of your vision. These flashing lights occur when the retina is stimulated by something within the eye rather than the light entering the eye.

Dark shadow
If your retina detaches it can’t work properly. You will see this as a dark shadow moving up down or across your vision. You will not be able to see round or through this shadow. If more of your retina detaches then the shadow will move towards the centre of your vision.

Blurring vision 
Your vision can become blurred for many reasons. If your vision suddenly becomes blurred at the same time as you experience the other symptoms you need to consult your optometrist as soon as possible. 

Types of retinal detachment

Most retinal detachments happen because a tear or hole in the retina allows fluid to leak between the retinal layers and this causes the retina to detach. 

Some retinal detachments happen because other eye conditions cause scar tissue to form inside the vitreous gel and on the surface of the retina. This scar tissue can then pull on the retina (traction) causing a detachment.

A rare type of retinal detachment can occur when fluid from the vessels behind the retina leaks between the retinal layers without there being a hole or tear present. This type of detachment happens because of another condition such as an inflammation or tumour.


Retinal detachment can be treated. Treatment involves surgery to reattach the sensory retina to the underlying retinal pigment epithelium.

Surgery for retinal detachment is complicated and very individual to each case.

It’s important that you contact your Optometrist or eye health professional as soon as you notice any of the symptoms of retinal detachment. The optometrist will be able to assess your situation and advise on next steps.  

If retinal detachment is not treated you will lose all the vision in your affected eye.

You can get a more detailed understanding of the types of treatment available for retinal detachment and what to expect in our Understanding Retinal Detachment download guide. 

Recently diagnosed with retinal detachment

Trying to adjust after a diagnosis of retinal detachment can seem overwhelming at first and it might involve some changes to your life. We’re here to support you every step of the way – just give our Helpline a call. 

You might also find it helpful to talk to our Eye Health team about your eye condition, get support from our Sight Loss Counselling service, or find out how to register as sight impaired.

Below are some guides that may be useful:

Getting emotional support 

Benefits, concessions and registering as sight impaired

For information about Northern Ireland please download our Benefits, Concessions and Certification in Northern Ireland leaflet: 

Staying in work


Knowing RNIB is there is so reassuring, like a comfort blanket

Peter Seaman

You can get support with your eye condition with RNIB


Living confidently with retinal detachment

Living with retinal detachment shouldn’t mean an end to doing most of the things you like to do. You can contact our Helpline for support, or start by reading our guides on making the most of your sight and enjoying leisure when living with sight loss.

If you haven’t already, why not join RNIB Connect and get connected to other people affected by sight loss locally and across the country? Or try our free Talking Books service to enjoy reading in an accessible format, or tune into RNIB Connect Radio to hear news, information and advice for people affected by sight loss.

Products from our shop that can help

Helpful organisations

The NHS Choices website has information on retinal detachment.

Moorfields Eye Hospital is one of the world's largest centres for eye care and research.

How to get involved

About this guide

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