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.

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.

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, and to answer any questions you may have about your sight loss or day-to-day living.

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If you've got any questions, speak to us by calling our Helpline on 0303 123 9999.

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Living confidently with retinal detachment

Living with retinal detachment shouldn’t mean an end to doing most of the things you like to do.

We will help you maximise your vision and make the most of the sight that you have.

If you haven’t already now would be a good time to join RNIB Connect, our connected community of everyone affected by sight loss.

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Helpful organisations

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

NHS Direct is the website for the NHS Direct health advice services, with information and advice about retinal detachment

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