What Are the Symptoms of a Retinal Tear and How to Treat it?

retinal tear
retinal tear

Retinal tears are a serious condition where part of the retina peels away from the supporting tissue beneath it. Understanding the symptoms of a retinal tear is crucial because, in many cases, a tear can morph into a total detachment.

In addition, it’s important to answer the question, “What does a retinal tear look like?” After all, you need to know what a tear looks like so that you can seek immediate medical attention if needed.

In this guide, you’ll learn about retinal tears vs. detachment, the causes of each, and how to treat each condition.

What is a Retinal Tear?

A retinal tear is when the thin layer of the eye responsible for generating vision comes away from its supportive tissue. A tear in the eye can lead to severe and often permanent vision loss. While relatively rare, understanding retinal tear symptoms can allow for prompt treatment. Tears will not heal on their own and, when left untreated, are likely to lead to additional and more severe tearing.

What are the Causes of Retinal Tears?

A tear in the eye can happen for several reasons. The most common cause is when the vitreous gel within the ocular region adheres to the retina. Over time, the gel pulls on the retina and stretches it, causing tiny tears to appear across the retina. This is known as vitreous detachment and happens to everyone as they age.

Myopia (nearsightedness) can also lead to tears and eventual detachment. Those with high myopia have naturally elongated retinas, resulting in constant stress along the retina and a degenerate vitreous, increasing the risk of retinal tears. The risk of developing complete detachment is five to six times greater in those with high myopia.

Physical trauma can also contribute to the formation of a tear. Trauma may not necessarily arise due to an injury. Cataract surgery also elevates the risk of tears in the retina.

Finally, family history can play a role in tears. If you have a family history of retinal problems, you may experience the same issues later in life.

What are the Symptoms of Retinal Tears?

Now that you know the answer to “how do you tear a retina?”, let’s take a closer look at the main symptoms of the condition.

The symptoms of a retinal tear include:

  • Black spots in the field of vision
  • Blurriness
  • Darker vision
  • Limited peripheral vision
  • Sudden floaters
  • Flashes of light

To make things more complex, some people may not experience any of the common symptoms of a retinal tear and live for years without knowing that they have a problem.

How Do You Treat Retinal Tears?

Some tears may be designated “low-risk.” In these cases, treatment for a low-risk retinal tear won’t be required, but regular monitoring will. Doctors will typically make recommendations to promote health and wellness to reduce the chances of the tear worsening.

If a retinal tear has been deemed potentially problematic, cryotherapy can be used as a treatment option. This freezing procedure involves welding the retinal tear back into place.

Even with treatment, there is no guarantee that further tears won’t form in the future. People prone to tears are much more likely to experience tearing than someone who has never experienced the problem.

What is a Retinal Detachment?

Retinal detachment is a relatively uncommon condition, with an estimated 3% lifetime risk in the U.S. Spotting the symptoms of a retinal tear early on can prevent a total retinal detachment.

When detachment occurs, the retina has a complete lack of attachment to the tissue behind it, causing the loss of nourishment and oxygen to the eye. A retinal detachment should be treated as an emergency to save vision in the eye. The longer detachment goes untreated, the greater the risk of permanent vision loss.

What are the Causes of Retinal Detachments?

The most apparent cause of detachment is an untreated tear. A retinal tear increases the likelihood of further tears forming and the retina fully coming away from its supporting tissue. It may take years, but the risk increases with time.

Retinal detachments share the same causes as small tears. The vitreous gel could be tugging at the retina, or severe physical trauma may dislodge the retina entirely. Scar tissue on the retina, myopia, surgery, or fluid accumulation also increases detachment risk.

Interestingly, 15% of patients who develop retinal detachment in one eye will also experience detachment in the other eye. As of this writing, researchers have not definitively concluded the link.

What are the Symptoms of Retinal Detachments?

Retinal detachment symptoms are identical to the signs of a retinal tear (floaters, blurred vision, reduced peripheral vision, etc.). Like tears, detachments are entirely painless. It’s not uncommon for people to ignore these symptoms and attribute them to the process of aging.

Unfortunately, some people may also experience no retinal detachment symptoms leaving them with an increased risk of more severe vision loss. Regularly attending eye appointments can help reduce the risk of long-term vision loss by catching tears and detachment sooner.

How Do You Treat Retinal Detachments?

Retinal detachments will not heal on their own. Medical intervention is required to address the problem. According to the latest studies, the success rate for retinal detachment treatment is 80-90%.

Treatments may involve one or more of the following procedures:

  • Laser/Freezing – Thermal or cryopexy may be used to repair a tear or detachment that has been diagnosed at an early enough juncture. Doctors can carry out this procedure in their offices.
  • Pneumatic Retinopexy – Holes that are small and easy to close can be treated using a pneumatic retinopexy. This procedure involves the doctor injecting a tiny gas bubble into the eye’s vitreous gel. It presses against the retina to close the tear, but patients must continually hold their heads in a specific position to avoid the bubble moving.
  • Scleral Buckle – Physicians secure a silicone band, known as a buckle, around the sclera of the eye. It pushes the tear or detachment to the white of the eye until it heals. The band is entirely invisible, but it will be attached permanently.
  • Vitrectomy – The doctor will remove the vitreous gel from the eye for larger tears and total detachment and replace it with either oil or a gas bubble. Like the pneumatic retinopexy, the patient must hold their heads in one place for an extended period.

Note that in cases of retinal detachment, it can take several months for vision to improve. Some patients may find that their full vision never returns. Promptly seeking treatment is the leading factor influencing the success of the above treatments. It underlines the importance of scheduling regular eye checks.


Retinal problems are not the type of eye health issue that will heal independently. Medical intervention is required to both diagnose and treat the problem.

Over the years, medical treatments have become more effective at preserving people’s vision well into old age. Advanced therapies are constantly being researched to improve the quality of life of people with vision problems.

Clinical trialing in ophthalmology is pivotal to the success of new, mainstream eye treatments. Check our our active clinical trials page to learn more about clinical trials in your area and the progress of current clinical trials.

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