Cookies on the Bupa website

We use cookies to help us understand ease of use and relevance of content. This ensures that we can give you the best experience on our website. If you continue, we'll assume that you are happy to receive cookies for this purpose. Find out more about cookies



Retinal detachment

Retinal detachment is when your retina (the light-sensitive layer of your eye) separates from the back of your eye. This can permanently damage your sight, so it’s important to get treatment straightaway. You might need to have emergency surgery to reattach it.

Your retina is a thin layer of nerve tissue that lines the inside of the back of your eye. When light travels through your pupil it's focused onto your retina, which sends signals to your brain that are interpreted as the image you see. Your macula is a small area about the size of a pinhead in the centre of your retina. It processes sharp, clear vision.

You’re more likely to get retinal detachment as you get older – usually from about 60 onwards.

Image showing a side view of the different parts of the eye


  • Types Types of retinal detachment

    There are three ways that your retina can detach from the back of your eye.

    Rhegmatogenous retinal detachment

    This is the most common type and can happen if a tear develops in your retina. This can cause fluid in your eye to seep underneath your retina and separate it from the back wall of your eye.

    Tractional retinal detachment

    Your retina and vitreous, which is the clear jelly-like fluid inside your eye, can become tightly stuck together. This can happen if you have an abnormal growth of blood vessels in your eye, most often in people with diabetes. It can also happen if you injure your eye or have inflammation within it. If the vitreous pulls at your retina or there’s scarring on the surface, your retina might be pulled off the back of your eye.

    Exudative retinal detachment

    If the blood vessels underneath your retina start to leak fluid, this can build up underneath your retina. This can sometimes push your retina off the back of your eye. There are many reasons this can happen, such as having severe inflammation in your eye.

    An image showing a healthy eye and an eye with retinal detachment
  • Symptoms Symptoms of retinal detachment

    The most common symptom of retinal detachment is a gradual deterioration in your eyesight. You may get things appearing in your vision such as:

    • flashes of light
    • spots or floaters

    This may be followed by a shadow spreading across your vision of one eye.

    If you get these symptoms, see an optometrist (a registered health professional who examines eyes, tests sight and dispenses glasses and contact lenses). Or, contact your GP as soon as possible.

    Sometimes you can have mild symptoms for some time, but they suddenly get worse for no particular reason. This can be a sign you have a tear in your retina that may have detached. If this happens, seek urgent medical treatment.

    Bupa On Demand: Retinal Surgery

    Want to talk to a Bupa consultant about retinal surgery? We’ll aim to get you seen the next day. Prices from £250

  • Diagnosis Diagnosis of retinal detachment

    Your optometrist or GP will ask about your symptoms and examine you. They will ask about your medical history too.

    They will do some tests to check your eyesight. For example, they might look at the inside and back of your eyes with an ophthalmoscope instrument. Ask a friend or relative to drive you to your appointment as these tests might affect your vision for a couple of hours afterwards.

    If your optometrist or GP suspects your retina is detached, or is at risk of detaching, they will urgently refer you to an ophthalmologist. This is a doctor who specialises in eye health, including eye surgery. You might then have other tests such as an ultrasound scan.

    Retinal detachment is usually a medical emergency. The sooner you get treatment, the less chance there is of permanent damage to your sight.

  • Treatment Treatment of retinal detachment

    You’ll usually need to have surgery to reattach your retina. There are three types of surgery to do this, which are described below. They all aim to make your retina lie flat against the inside of your eye again.

    • Vitrectomy. This involves removing the vitreous (clear jelly-like fluid) from the back of your eye and replacing it with either a gas or silicone bubble. This holds your retina in place while it heals.
    • Scleral buckle surgery. In this procedure, your ophthalmologist will attach a thin band of synthetic material to the outside of your eye. This presses on the outside of your eye, which causes the inside wall of your eye to indent slightly. This pushes the inside of your eye against the detached retina and into a position that helps it to reattach. The area around the hole is then sealed using cryotherapy or laser treatment.
    • Pneumatic retinopexy. Your ophthalmologist may be able to inject a small gas or silicone bubble into your vitreous over the site of your detachment. This bubble then presses the retina back in place, and they will use cryotherapy or laser around the tear. This procedure is only possible if your retinal detachment covers just a small area.
  • Eye treatment on demand

    You can access a range of our health and wellbeing services on a pay-as-you-go basis, including eye treatment.

  • Recovery After your treatment

    After surgery, you’ll be given antibiotics and corticosteroid eye drops. These will help prevent infection and reduce any inflammation.

    If you have had gas put into your eye, you may be asked to keep your head in a certain position afterwards. This could be on one side or face down and is called ‘posturing’. You’ll need to do this for about a week to 10 days after your operation. You won’t be able to travel on an aeroplane while any gas remains in your eye. This is because the change in air pressure can affect the bubble of gas and increase pressure inside your eye. While any gas remains in your eye your vision will be blurred. It can take about 10 days to a few weeks for the gas to be reabsorbed.

    If your central vision has been affected, it may take a year or more after your operation for your eyesight to fully recover. Most of the improvement in your sight will happen during the first six months after surgery. But for some people, their vision may never fully recover. It often depends on if and for how long the macula part of your retina was detached.

    Surgery is most successful when your macula hasn’t become fully detached. This is why it’s important to seek medical attention as soon as possible after noticing changes in your sight. Occasionally, it may not be possible to restore your retina to its correct position and your vision may be lost completely.

  • Causes Causes of retinal detachment

    Causes of retinal detachment include the following.

    • Age-related changes to your eye. As you get older, you’re more likely to get retinal detachment – usually when you’re over 60. One condition you can get as a natural part of ageing called posterior vitreous detachment (PVD) can lead to retinal detachment. See our information on PVD further down the page.
    • Short-sightedness (myopia). If you’re very short-sighted, you’re likely to have a thinner retina, which can tear or break more easily.
    • Previous eye surgery. If you had a cataract operation, for example, the jelly-like vitreous inside your eye can be disturbed.
    • An eye injury. This may cause your retina to detach straightaway, or it can happen months or even years later.
    • A family history of retinal detachment can make you more likely to get it.
    • Diabetic retinopathy. An abnormal growth of blood vessels from your retina that can cause bleeding and scarring that can pull on your retina.
  • Complications Complications of retinal detachment

    The most serious complication of retinal detachment is partial or total loss of your eyesight.

    If your retina detaches from your eye, it may become scarred, folded and stiff as your body tries to heal itself. If this happens, it can make surgery to treat retinal detachment more difficult. This is because it’s not possible to get your retina flat up against the back of your eye to restore your sight.

  • Prevention Prevention of retinal detachment

    If you have a weakness in your retina, you may be able to have preventive laser or cryotherapy treatment to repair it.

    The only other thing you can do is try to prevent any potential causes of retinal detachment. One way you can prevent injuring your eyes, for example, is by wearing eye protection if you’re doing DIY, or during sports like squash. Have an eye test regularly too, at least every two years, to check that your eyes are healthy.

  • FAQ: Returning to work How long before I can go back to work if I’ve had retinal detachment?

    This will depend on the type of retinal detachment you had, how successful your treatment has been and the type of work you do.

    More information

    After retinal reattachment surgery, your eye may feel bruised and your eyelids may be sticky. You might want to wait for this to ease before you go back to work. You might have been told to hold your head in a certain position after your operation to help your retina to heal. You might need to do this for up to 10 days after your operation, which will delay your return to work. Although this might sound daunting, it’s worth persevering with as it’s an important part of your recovery.

    If you usually drive to work or drive as part of your job, you may not be able to return to full duties straightaway. This is because your eyesight may not be as good as it was before and it may take some time for it to return to normal. Speak to your insurance company before you drive so that you’re aware of their recommendations and check the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) website.

    If retinal detachment has affected your eyesight, you might need to make some adaptations at work, such as using magnifiers or access to larger print. Ask your doctor about the services available for people with poor vision.

  • FAQ: Posterior vitreous detachment What is posterior vitreous detachment?

    Posterior vitreous detachment (PVD) is a condition that affects your vitreous, a jelly-like fluid in the centre of your eye. As you get older, your vitreous in your eye becomes more liquid than jelly-like in the middle and tends to shrink away from your retina. PVD is a natural part of the ageing process.

    More information

    By the time you're in your 80s, you have an almost nine in 10 chance of having PVD. This compares with a one in 10 chance when you’re less than 60.

    As you get older, the vitreous begins to lose its shape and consistency, and can start to pull away from the back of your eye. PVD may occur suddenly (over a matter of days) and may pass without you noticing. But it may cause new floaters or spots in your vision. You don’t usually need any treatment for PVD and you’re likely to gradually get used to any new floaters in your vision.

    The symptoms of PVD are similar to those for a retinal detachment so it can be difficult to tell the difference. As they may be the only symptoms that you have a tear in your retina, it's important to get it checked. See an ophthalmologist (a doctor who specialises in eye health, including eye surgery) who will examine the back of your eye thoroughly. Ask a friend or relative to drive you to your appointment as this examination can affect your sight for a couple of hours afterwards.

  • FAQ: Long-term prognosis Will my vision be permanently affected by a retinal detachment?

    It’s possible, but it depends on whether your macula is affected in the detachment and how long your retina is detached before you get treatment.

    More information

    When your retina becomes detached from the back wall of your eye, your eyesight will be affected straightaway. It’s often described as a shadow spreading across one of your eyes.

    In nine out of 10 people, the retina can be reattached and you usually only need one operation to do this. If you have the operation soon enough, your vision might be as good as it was before. Getting prompt treatment is vital in saving your sight. The longer your retina is detached, the less likely it is that your eyesight will fully recover.

    The greatest risk of permanent damage to your eyesight is if your macula becomes detached. The macula is the part of your retina that processes sharp, clear vision. If this is detached, your sight may never fully recover.

    If you think you have a retinal detachment, see your optometrist immediately. If they aren't available, go to the accident and emergency department of your local hospital.

  • Other helpful websites Other helpful websites

    Further information


    • Retinal detachment. BMJ Best Practice., published 9 April 2015
    • Understanding retinal detachment. Royal College of Ophthalmologists., reviewed July 2013
    • Retinal detachment. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries., published March 2015
    • Hatef E, Sena DF, Fallano KA, et al. Pneumatic retinopexy versus scleral buckle for repairing simple rhegmatogenous retinal detachments. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2015, Issue 5. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD008350.pub2
    • Retinal detachment. PatientPlus., reviewed 5 August 2013
    • Mowatt L, Shun-Shin GA, Arora S, et al. Macula off retinal detachments. How long can they wait before it is too late? Eur J Ophthalmol 2005; 15(1):109–17.
    • van De Put MA, Croonen D, Nolte IM, et al. Postoperative recovery of visual function after macula-off rhegmatogenous retinal detachment. PLoS One 2014; 9(6):e99787. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0099787
    • Proliferative retinal detachment. Medscape., published 20 March 2014
    • Vitreous detachment. PatientPlus., reviewed 28 May 2013
    • Posterior vitreous detachment, retinal breaks, and lattice degeneration. American Academy of Ophthalmology., published October 2014
  • Has our information helped you? Tell us what you think about this page

    We’d love to know what you think about what you’ve just been reading and looking at – we’ll use it to improve our information. If you’d like to give us some feedback, our short form below will take just a few minutes to complete. And if there's a question you want to ask that hasn't been answered here, please submit it to us. Although we can't respond to specific questions directly, we’ll aim to include the answer to it when we next review this topic.

    Let us know what you think using our short feedback form
  • Related information Related information

  • Author information Author information

    Reviewed by Rachael Mayfield-Blake, Freelance Health Editor, Bupa Health Content Team, January 2016.

    Peer reviewed by Professor Simon Taylor, Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon.

About our health information

At Bupa we produce a wealth of free health information for you and your family. We believe that trustworthy information is essential in helping you make better decisions about your health and care. Here are just a few of the ways in which our core editorial principles have been recognised.

  • Information Standard

    We are certified by the Information Standard. This quality mark identifies reliable, trustworthy producers and sources of health information.

    Information standard logo
  • HONcode

    This site complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information:
    verify here.

    This website is certified by Health On the Net Foundation. Click to verify.

What our readers say about us

But don't just take our word for it; here's some feedback from our readers.

Simple and easy to use website - not alarming, just helpful.

It’s informative but not too detailed. I like that it’s factual and realistic about the conditions and the procedures involved. It’s also easy to navigate to areas that you specifically want without having to read all the information.

Good information, easy to find, trustworthy.

Meet the team

Nick Ridgman

Nick Ridgman
Head of Health Content

  • Dylan Merkett – Lead Editor
  • Graham Pembrey - Lead Editor
  • Laura Blanks – Specialist Editor, Quality
  • Michelle Harrison – Specialist Editor, Insights
  • Natalie Heaton – Specialist Editor, User Experience
  • Fay Jeffery – Web Editor
  • Marcella McEvoy – Specialist Editor, Content Portfolio
  • Alice Rossiter – Specialist Editor (on Maternity Leave)

Our core principles

All our health content is produced in line with our core editorial principles – readable, reliable, relevant – which are represented by our diagram.

An image showing or editorial principals

                  Click to open full-size image

The ‘3Rs’ encompass everything we believe good health information should be. From tweets to in-depth reports, videos to quizzes, every piece of content we produce has these as its foundation.


In a nutshell, our information is jargon-free, concise and accessible. We know our audience and we meet their health information needs, helping them to take the next step in their health and wellbeing journey.


We use the best quality and most up-to-date evidence to produce our information. Our process is transparent and validated by experts – both our users and medical specialists.


We know that our users want the right information at the right time, in the way that suits them. So we review our content at least every three years to keep it fresh. And we’re embracing new technology and social media so they can get it whenever and wherever they choose.

Our accreditation

Here are just a few of the ways in which the quality of our information has been recognised.

  • The Information Standard certification scheme

    You will see the Information Standard quality mark on our content. This is a certification programme, supported by NHS England, that was developed to ensure that public-facing health and care information is created to a set of best practice principles.

    It uses only recognised evidence sources and presents the information in a clear and balanced way. The Information Standard quality mark is a quick and easy way for you to identify reliable and trustworthy producers and sources of information.

    Certified by the Information Standard as a quality provider of health and social care information. Bupa shall hold responsibility for the accuracy of the information they publish and neither the Scheme Operator nor the Scheme Owner shall have any responsibility whatsoever for costs, losses or direct or indirect damages or costs arising from inaccuracy of information or omissions in information published on the website on behalf of Bupa.

  • British Medical Association (BMA) patient information awards

    We have received a number of BMA awards for different assets over the years. Most recently, in 2013, we received a 'commended' award for our online shared decision making hub.

Contact us

If you have any feedback on our health information, we would love to hear from you. Please contact us via email: Or you can write to us:

Health Content Team
Battle Bridge House
300 Grays Inn Road

Find out more Close

Legal disclaimer

This information was published by Bupa's Health Content Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been reviewed by appropriate medical or clinical professionals. Photos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition.

The information contained on this page and in any third party websites referred to on this page is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice nor is it intended to be for medical diagnosis or treatment. Third party websites are not owned or controlled by Bupa and any individual may be able to access and post messages on them. Bupa is not responsible for the content or availability of these third party websites. We do not accept advertising on this page.

For more details on how we produce our content and its sources, visit the 'About our health information' section.

ˆ We may record or monitor our calls.