What are the Signs & Symptoms of a Retinal Detachment?

retinal detachment right eye with large fold and large corresponding floater

A retinal detachment is one of a few true ocular emergencies that optometrist see on a regular basis.

Because retinal detachments can occur to patients of any age, and without warning, we believe it's important that you know the signs of symptoms to watch out for. 

What is a Retinal Detachment? 

As the name implies, it involves the retina or sensory layer of the eye detaching from the underlying structure. This detachment can happen suddenly or develop slowly over a number of days, weeks or months. 

So what are the signs and Symptoms of a Retinal Detachment? 

A retinal detachment often includes new or an increased number of floaters or cobwebs within your vision. These floaters do not come and go, but instead, they might grow in size and frequency. You might initially mistake the floater for a fly or bug. They are also usually best seen when looking at a bright white background because you're really seeing a shadow of the floater being projected onto the retina. 

These floaters or cobwebs can also cause sudden flashes of light (an indication that something is pulling on the retina), which is often better seen in lower light and noted by patients more often in the evenings. 

Some patients report seeing a change in colour perception, with items seeming dim or dull. You can check this by simply alternating covering one eye at a time with your hand. 

Retinal detachments are painless, so don't expect your eye to ache and throb. There are no pain sensors within your eye. Retinal disease is a painless disease. 

The #1 sign of a retinal detachment is .....

....when you feel like something is blocking a portion of your vision. Usually described as the ‘curtain’ effect, this blockage can occur suddenly or over a few days and is a sign that things are progressing. 

4-Common Risk Factors for Developing a Retinal Detachment include: 

  1. High nearsightedness (myopia)
  2. Recent eye surgery – such as cataract surgery
  3. Previous retinal detachment in the other eye
  4. A recent eye injury or trauma to the eye

What Should I do if I think I have a Retinal Detachment? 

Whenever you notice a sudden change in your vision or feel like something is off, call our office right away.

Retinal detachments are considered a medical emergency requiring urgent diagnosis and treatment to repair the retina before extensive damage occurs. It’s critical that if you should ever notice any of the above signs or symptoms that you see a Stonewire optometrist as soon as possible. Do not wait to see if your symptoms improve.  

Call our office directly @ 780.628.6886

Our current online booking system has a 2-hour delay 

If it's such an emergency though, why don't I just go to the hospital? 

What to Expect During Your Appointment. 

The optometrist will perform a detailed eye health exam including a dilated retinal examination, looking for signs of a retinal detachment. They may run a visual field test, perform digital retinal imaging with our optomap and OCT imaging to better aid in detecting subtle detachments. 

Once diagnosed our clinic will arrange an appointment for you to see an Alberta retinal specialist in the eye care clinic at the Royal Alexandra Hospital. This appointment will either be the same day or early the following morning depending on the location or type of retinal detachment you have. 

  • What if it's not a retinal detachment?
    • That's Great!
    • Your optometrist may also conclude that you do not have a retinal detachment, but instead you may have what we call a posterior vitreal detachment or PVD. A PVD is a harmless retinal change seen in almost everyone at some point and is a natural change that occurs over time. The signs and symptoms of a PVD are almost identical to that of a retinal detachment. Although a PVD is not serious and does not require surgical intervention in most cases, patients are still educated to be vigilant for the signs of a retinal detachment. Should your symptoms change, we would ask that you return to our clinic immediately. 

How to Prepare for Retinal Detachment Surgery

In some cases, invasive retinal surgery may be required to repair your retinal detachment. As such, it's important to have an empty stomach to allow the retinal specialists to perform the procedure as soon as possible. Ideally, we do not want you to eat or drink anything, including water for at least eight hours before your surgery time. Because time is of the essence in most cases, waiting for food to clear your system may result in further retinal damage and vision loss. 

Did you know? Emergency eye care services are covered by Alberta Health Care.