What are the main symptoms of a retinal tear?

Written by: Miss Miriam Minihan
Published: | Updated: 07/09/2023
Edited by: Lisa Heffernan

The retina is a layer of tissue that lines the inside of your eye. It’s made up of light-sensitive cells that send signals to your brain, allowing you to see. The retina is quite thin, so a tear in it can be serious and lead to a loss of vision. Here, leading ophthalmologist Miss Miriam Minihan talks to us about retinal tears and the common signs that may indicate you have one.



What is a retinal tear?

A retinal tear is a break in the continuity of the retina, the light-sensitive layer at the back of the eye. A retinal tear occurs as a consequence of traction from the vitreous gel in the setting of a posterior vitreous detachment (PVD). PVD is a natural change that occurs during adulthood when the vitreous gel that fills the eye separates from the retina at the back of the eye.


The sequence of events is as follows: the vitreous gel naturally deteriorates with time.  At some point, usually in a person’s fifties or sixties, the vitreous gel may separate from the retina at the back of the eye, as the vitreous gel separates it may pull on the retina, creating a retinal tear.


Why is a retinal tear important?

If not treated by a retinal specialist, a retinal tear can cause retinal detachment which can lead to a loss of vision.


What are retinal tear symptoms?

Symptoms are essentially the symptoms of PVD, which include flashing lights described as an arc, a flicker or flash of light usually to the sides of vison, and floaters which may be in the form of dark strands, cobwebs, tadpole shapes or tiny dots which move with eye movement.


What should I do if I experience symptoms?

You should seek the opinion of a retinal specialist within 24 hours. You can attend your optometrist for advice as to whether you need to attend a retinal specialist. The specialist can diagnose a retinal tear by examination and proceed to treatment without delay.


What is the treatment for a retinal tear?

Retinal tears are usually treated using laser treatment in an outpatient setting. Occasionally, ophthalmic cryotherapy (freeze therapy) may be required. The role of treatment is to prevent retinal detachment.


Are you seeing flashing lights and floaters? Schedule an appointment with a retinal specialist such as Miss Miriam Minihan.

By Miss Miriam Minihan

Miss Miriam Minihan is a highly specialised consultant ophthalmic surgeon with a special interest in cataract surgery and retinal problems, working privately at Moorfields Private Eye Hospital and The London Clinic on Harley Street. Her areas of expertise include retinal surgery, cataract surgery, age-related macular degeneration (AMD), diabetic eye disease and retinal vascular disorders

Miss Minihan graduated with her medical degree from University College Cork in 1992 and went on to train in the northeast of England before moving to London. She completed training at St Thomas' Hospital in London and Moorfields Eye Hospital. She gained much experience in treating retinal conditions and cataracts. Miss Minihan successfully completed a vitreoretinal fellowship from St Thomas' Hospital and then two fellowships from Moorfields, one vitreoretinal fellowship and one medical retina fellowship.

Along with her private practice, Miss Minihan also works for the NHS at Moorfields and is the audit lead for the vitreoretinal service at the hospital. In addition, Miss Minihan is co-chair of the Moorfields Academy, which is an exciting, innovative society with the goal to enhance learning and future developments in healthcare with a focus on ophthalmology. Miss Minihan has contributed to numerous publications, some of which can be seen on ResearchGate and PubMed. 

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