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Detached retina

If retinal detachment has occurred, surgery is usually required to reattach the retina.

Surgery is needed to reattach the retina if it becomes detached.

Without treatment, it will lead to loss of vision. In 85% of cases, only one operation is needed to reattach the retina.


Surgery for retinal detachment may be done under a general anaesthetic or a local anaesthetic, where drops and an injection are used to numb your eye and the surrounding tissue.

You'll be asked not to eat or drink anything for six hours before the operation.

Before you're given the anaesthetic, you'll be given eye drops to widen your pupil.

The different surgical treatments for a detached retina are explained below.


Vitrectomy is the most commonly performed operation. It works by removing the fluid from the inside of the eye and replacing it with either a gas or silicone bubble. This holds the retina in position from the inside.

A vitrectomy may be recommended if the fluid in front of the eye is unusually thick and dense, and is pulling the retina away from the underlying blood vessels.

Tiny dissolving stitches are used to close the wound. It's also possible to perform this surgery without the need for stitches, using smaller instruments. While this may lead to less discomfort, it's not known whether it's more effective.

After the procedure, you'll be asked to keep your head in a certain position for a while, known as "posturing", so the bubble settles in the correct position.

If you've had a gas bubble put in your eye, you won't be able to travel by air for a while. Your doctor will tell you when it's safe to fly again.

If you need another operation that requires general anaesthetic, you must tell your doctors about the gas bubble in your eye.

Scleral buckling

Scleral buckling involves fine bands of silicone rubber or sponge that are stitched on to the outside white of the eye (the sclera) in the area where the retina has detached.

The bands act like a buckle and press the sclera in towards the middle of the eye, so the torn retina can lie against the wall of the eye.

Laser or freezing treatment is used to scar the tissue around the retina, which creates a seal between the retina and the wall of the eye and closes up the tear or hole.

The bands can be left on the eye and shouldn't be noticeable after the operation.

Pneumatic retinopexy

If the detachment is relatively small and uncomplicated, a procedure called pneumatic retinopexy may be used. This involves injecting a small bubble of gas into the eye, which presses the retina back into place.

Laser or freezing treatment is often then used to create scar tissue that keeps the retina in the correct place. The bubble is slowly absorbed into the eye over the following weeks.

If you need another operation that requires general anaesthetic, you must tell your doctors about the gas bubble in your eye. 

As with vitrectomy, posturing will be necessary to ensure the bubble is in the right place. The same restrictions on flying and precautions for further surgery also apply to pneumatic retinopexy.

Possible complications

There's a small chance of developing complications during or after surgery, including:

  • bleeding inside the eye
  • more holes in the retina
  • bruising around the eye
  • high pressure or swelling inside the eye (glaucoma)
  • the lens of the eye becoming cloudy (cataract)
  • double vision
  • allergy to the medicine used
  • infection in the eye (this is very rare)

These complications aren't common and can usually be treated. Sometimes you may need more than one operation to fix the retina. 

Read about recovering from retinal detachment surgery.

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