A retinal detachment develops when the retina separates from its normal location on the rear wall of the eye. (See Diagram.) Loss of vision in the detached retina results but may be restored with surgery. The retina is a very thin layer of specialized nerve cells that transforms light into electrical impulses which are sent to the visual centers in the brain. The retina is similar to the film in a television camera. Trauma and certain anatomical conditions such as myopia (nearsightedness) are the most common causes of detachment.
A retinal detachment ensues with the formation of a hole or tear in the retina followed by leakage of fluid underneath the retina with resultant elevation or detachment. (See Diagram.)
Holes or tears occur from pulling forces of the vitreous (the clear jelly-like material within the cavity of the eye) as it liquefies or contracts. Fluid can pass through the tear and behind the retina, lifting it. As more fluid goes behind the retina, it can detach further. Surgical repair of a detached retina, termed a "scleral buckling procedure", involves the use of a small silicone band placed around the eye to reposition the retina back to its normal location. Drainage of the fluid beneath the retina and sealing of the tear with heat, freezing or laser may also be performed.