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Retinal Tear | Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

A retinal tear can occur when the vitreous gel inside the eye separates from the retina. Vitreous separation (known as posterior vitreous detachment) typically occurs in about 70% of people by the age of 70 years. In some eyes, there is abnormal adhesion between the retina and vitreous that can lead to the retina tearing during normal vitreous separation. A retinal tear can develop into a sight-threatening retinal detachment, so we strongly recommend having your eye examined by a specialist as soon as you notice symptoms.

If you have questions about retinal tears and the treatment options that are available, please call us on 0203 369 2020, or request a call back.

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What is a retinal tear?

A retinal tear can occur when the vitreous gel inside the eye pulls away abnormally from the retina, the delicate and light sensitive layer of tissue at the back of the eye. When the vitreous pulls on the particularly adherent part of the retina, it can cause a piece of the retina to tear.

Is a retinal tear an emergency?

A retinal tear can lead to retinal detachment which usually requires urgent treatment as it could lead to the loss of sight. Once a retinal tear occurs, the fluid that is normally in front of the retina can flow through the tear, and separate the retina from the wall of the eye. This is called a rhegmatogenous retinal detachment.

A retinal tear is easier to repair compared to a retinal detachment. Because of this, we strongly recommend having your eye examined within 24 hours of noticing any sudden changes in vision.

What causes a retinal tear?

Posterior vitreous detachment

A common cause of a retinal tear is posterior vitreous detachment. This is a process where the vitreous gel pulls away from the retina. This occurs due to age with the vitreous gel shrinking and becoming more liquid, leading to the vitreous pulling away from the back of the eye. If the vitreous pulls on the retina as it shrinks, this can lead to a piece of the retina tearing away from the back of the eye.

In some eyes, there is abnormal adhesion between the retina and vitreous that can lead to the retina in that area tearing during posterior vitreous detachment.

Eye trauma

Severe blunt trauma to the eye can also lead to a retinal tear or retinal detachment.

What are the symptoms of a retinal tear?

Symptoms of retinal tears are similar to those of retinal detachment:

  • A sudden increase in floaters, spots that appear to float across your vision
  • Appearance of a shadow in the peripheral (side) vision which can rapidly increase in size and lead to the loss of central vision
  • An onset of flashing lights appearing in the vision

If you notice these symptoms, we recommend seeing an eye specialist right away in case the retinal tear leads to retinal detachment, in which case urgent treatment would be needed.

Treatment options

Treatment, known as retinopexy, is in the form of laser or cryotherapy to seal the retinal tear. It is akin to spot-welding around the retinal tear, and reduces the chance of the surrounding retina separating from the eye wall and developing a retinal detachment.

Local anaesthesia is used and treatment takes between 10 and 30 minutes.

What to expect after treatment

Immediately following treatment, your vision will be blurred for a few hours. You should be able to see clearly by the next day.

You may be prescribed eye drops for a week or so after treatment. Your eye will be a little red for a few days or more, and can feel gritty or dry during this period.

After several weeks, your retina specialist will be able to confirm if retinopexy treatment has been successful. If in the day and weeks following treatment, you develop new symptoms of floaters or a shadow in your peripheral vision, do seek attention to ensure no new retinal tears or retinal detachment have developed.

In the months following retinal tear development, there is a small chance of an epiretinal membrane developing at the central retina that could blur your fine vision, whether retinopexy was done or not. Extensive retinopexy may increase the risk of this slightly. The treatment of epiretinal membrane can be found here.

Our Retinal Treatment Testimonials

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If you have any questions around retinal tears or our service, please feel free to make an enquiry or call us on 0203 369 2020