Retinal detachment

What is it?

The retina is the light-sensitive lining of tissue at the back of the eye. It's made up of different layers, including a layer of cells that detect light (photoreceptors) and a layer of support tissue that contains blood vessels to supply the photoreceptors with food and oxygen.

Retinal detachment means that the layer containing photoreceptors is pulling away from the support tissue underneath it.

  • Causes

    The main cause of retinal detachment is when a tear or break in the retina lets fluid get underneath it. Less often, scar tissue can grow on the retina following surgery to re-attach a detached retina. If so, the scar tissue can contract and pull at the retina so that it comes away again. This happens to about 8-10 out every 100 people who have the surgery. An eye injury, or blow to the head, or some medical conditions that affect the retina may also cause a detached retina.

    A retinal detachment can happen at any age, but it is more common in people over the age of 40. The risk is higher among people who are short sighted. If the retina detaches in one eye, the chance of it happening in the other eye is increased. The risk is also greater if there is a family history of retinal detachment.

  • Symptoms

    Retinal detachment can cause blurred vision. Seeing flashes of light or a dark shadow in the corner of your vision may also be a sign.  The shadow would move closer to the centre of your view as the retinal detachment gets worse. You might also see a dramatic increase in floaters (shapes that seem to float across your view).

  • Treatments

    Retinal detachment is often an emergency but it can be treated. This usually involves a surgical operation to re-attach the retina.

  • Research

    Surgery to re-attach the retina is usually successful, but in some cases it will fail due to a complication called proliferative vitreoretinopathy (PVR). If PVR develops it can lead to permanent sight loss. Drugs do exist that could treat PVR but they can't be used during retinal detachment surgery without damage to the retina, leading to more sight loss. So we need to develop better treatments that not only work, but are safe.

  • Clinical trials

    You could play an important part in eye research by being a participant in clinical research study that may benefit many people. You could even help shape clinical research by becoming more actively involved and having a say. Patients, carer, or anyone with an interest can help.

    What are clinical trials

    Clinical trials are research studies that find out if a medical strategy, treatment, or device is safe and effective for humans. They are a key research tool for improving medical knowledge and patient care. The people who carry out research are mostly the same doctors and healthcare professionals who treat people. Their aim is to find better ways of treating patients and keeping people healthy.

    Taking part

    Here are some ways to find out about research projects and clinical trials that you can get involved in.

    UK Clinical Trials Gateway

    The UK Clinical Trials Gateway run by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) provides easy to understand information about clinical research trials running in the UK, and gives to a large range of information about these trials. It is designed to enable patients and clinicians to locate and contact trials of interest. Visit their website and select the eye condition that you are interested in.

    NIHR Clinical Research Network Portfolio

    The NIHR Clinical Research Network Portfolio is a database of high-quality clinical research studies in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Within this the Ophthalmology Specialty Group supports a national portfolio of research studies in ophthalmology and the vision sciences. See their website for details.

    If you wish to join a trial it is always best to discuss this with your doctor or clinical team first.

Last updated September 2015
Approved by Mr David Charteris, Moorfields Eye Hospital

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