Saving sight: A guide to retinal detachment

Written by: Dr Peter Cackett
Edited by: Kate Forristal

The human eye is an intricately designed organ, enabling us to perceive the world around us. One crucial component of vision is the retina, a thin layer of tissue located at the back of the eye that captures light and sends visual information to the brain. However, certain conditions, such as retinal detachment, can pose a significant threat to this vital sensory function.

In his latest online article, Dr Peter Cackett gives us his insights into retinal detachment. He talks about the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, recovery and prognosis and preventive measures.


What is retinal detachment?

Retinal detachment occurs when the retina, typically attached firmly to the back of the eye, separates from its normal position. This separation disrupts the blood supply to the retinal cells, leading to potential vision loss if left untreated.



Various factors can contribute to retinal detachment. A primary cause is a break or tear in the retina, often due to aging, trauma, or existing eye conditions. Conditions like high myopia (severe near-sightedness), previous eye surgery, or a family history of retinal detachment can increase the risk.



Recognising the symptoms of retinal detachment is critical in seeking timely medical intervention. Symptoms may include the sudden appearance of floaters (tiny specks drifting across the field of vision), flashes of light, and a curtain-like shadow over the visual field. Some individuals describe these symptoms as seeing cobwebs or flashes of lightning in their peripheral vision.



If experiencing any of these symptoms, immediate consultation with an ophthalmologist is crucial. The eye specialist will conduct a comprehensive eye examination to diagnose retinal detachment. This may involve dilating the pupil for a better view of the retina, as well as using various imaging techniques such as ultrasound or optical coherence tomography (OCT).



Early detection significantly improves the chances of successful treatment for retinal detachment. The approach to treatment often depends on the severity and type of detachment.


Laser or freezing treatment (Photocoagulation or Cryopexy): Small tears or holes in the retina can be treated with these techniques, which help to reattach the retina to the back of the eye.


Scleral buckling: A common surgical procedure where a flexible band is placed around the eye to counteract the force pulling the retina out of place.


Vitrectomy: This involves the removal of the vitreous gel inside the eye to relieve tension on the retina, followed by the insertion of a gas or silicone oil bubble to push the retina back in place.


Recovery and prognosis

The recovery process after retinal detachment treatment varies for each individual. Patients often need to limit physical activity and may have restrictions on posture, especially after gas bubble insertion. It's essential to follow the doctor’s instructions diligently for optimal recovery. The prognosis for retinal detachment depends on various factors, including the extent of detachment, its location, and how promptly treatment is sought. Timely intervention significantly increases the chances of preserving vision.


Preventive measures

While some risk factors for retinal detachment, like age and family history, are beyond our control, preventive measures can still play a role. Regular eye exams, especially for individuals with a higher risk, can aid in early detection and timely intervention.


Dr Peter Cackett is a distinguished ophthalmologist with over 25 years of experience. You can schedule an appointment with Dr Cackett on his Top Doctors profile.

By Dr Peter Cackett

Dr Peter Cackett is an esteemed consultant ophthalmologist based in Edinburgh who specialises in conditions of the retina and the macula, such as epiretinal membrane, macular hole, and retinal detachment. With more than 25 years’ clinical experience, he is skilled in a wide range of procedures, including retinal detachment surgery, and is qualified to treat cataracts and eye floaters as well. Dr Cackett currently sees patients at the renowned Eye Surgery Scotland eye care centre.

Dr Cackett originally qualified from Guy’s and St Thomas’ Medical School in London in 1995, obtaining both his MBBS and an intercalated BSc in Anatomy. He then completed ophthalmology training in Glasgow and Edinburgh before going on to accomplish the prestigious medical retina fellowship at Singapore National Eye Centre, the leading eye institute for ophthalmology and vision. A fellow of The Royal College of Ophthalmologists, Dr Cackett is also a consultant ophthalmologist at The Princess Alexandra Eye Pavilion, where he has practised for the last 15 years and is the clinical lead for medical retina as well.

Further to his high-quality ophthalmology practice, Dr Cackett is a prominent figure in medical research and education. He has published more than 60 scientific peer-reviewed abstracts and papers and is, at present, an honorary clinical senior lecturer for ophthalmology at The University of Edinburgh. He performs medicolegal work for medical retina cases, and since 2021, is also section editor at Eye News.

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