Retinal detachment occurs when the thin lining at the back of your eye called the retina begins to pull away from the blood vessels that supply it with oxygen and nutrients.

Without prompt treatment, it will lead to blindness in the affected eye. 

Warning signs

Most people will experience warning signs that indicate their retina is at risk of detaching before they lose their sight. These are:

  • the sudden appearance of floaters – dark spots that float in your field of vision
  • sudden short flashes of light in one eye
  • blurred or distorted vision

Contact your GP immediately if you get any of these warning signs.

Read more about the symptoms of retinal detachment.


Retinal detachment is most often the result of the retina becoming thinner and more brittle with age and pulling away from the underlying blood vessels.

It can also be caused by a direct injury to the eye, but this is less common.

Read more about the causes of retinal detachment.


If your GP suspects a diagnosis of retinal detachment, it is likely you will be referred to an eye specialist (ophthalmologist), usually on the same day.

The ophthalmologist will study the back of your eye with an ophthalmoscope (a magnifying glass connected to a light) and a slit lamp (a microscope that magnifies the eye while you rest your head on a chin rest). If there is a poor view of the retina, an ultrasound scan may also be used. 


The quicker retinal detachment is treated, the less risk there is of permanently losing some or  all of your vision in the affected eye.

Most detached retinas can be successfully reattached with surgery. There are a number of different types of surgery available, depending on the individual.

It can take months to fully recover from surgery on your eye. During this period your vision may be reduced, which means you may not be able to do some of your usual activities, such as driving or flying.

Unfortunately, some people's eyesight does not fully return after surgery and they have permanently reduced peripheral (side) or central vision. This can happen even if the retina is reattached successfully. The risk of this is higher the longer the detachment was left untreated.

Read more about treating retinal detachment and recovering from retinal detachment surgery.

Who is affected?

Retinal detachment is a rare condition. Only one in every 10,000 people will develop a new case of retinal detachment in any given year in the UK.

As retinal detachment is associated with ageing, most cases affect older adults aged between 50 and 75.

Retinal detachment caused by an injury can affect people of any age, including children.

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The retina

The retina is a complex layer of tissue that lies at the back of your eye. It contains millions of nerve cells that convert light coming into the eye into nerve signals.

These nerve signals are then sent via the optic nerve to the brain, effectively allowing the brain to "see".

Without a constant supply of blood, the nerve signals begin to die, which can lead to a permanent loss of vision.


If you have a retinal detachment, it could affect your ability to drive. It is your legal obligation to inform the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) about a medical condition that could have an impact on your driving ability. 

Find out about driving and medical conditions on the GOV.UK website.

Page last reviewed: 09/01/2013

Next review due: 09/01/2015