The retina is the very thin tissue the lines in inside of the back of the eye. It is the part of the eye that reacts to light by a chemical process that then sends a nerve impulse to the brain which in turn translates that nerve impulse to vision. The retina is analogous to the film in a camera.
A retinal detachment occurs when the retina is pulled away from its normal position in the back of the eye. A retinal detachment is often preceded by a small tear in the retina. Retinal tears can be caused by trauma, aging and thinning of the retina, and posterior vitreous detachment amongst other lesser known causes. Often retinal tears have no symptoms and they can precede a retinal detachment by many weeks to months. They are often found on routine eye exams by the ophthalmologist. If they are found before the retina starts to pull off, they can be easily sealed with an outpatient office laser, thus preventing a retinal detachment.
The typical symptoms of a retinal detachment can be the sudden appearance of floaters and flashes. After some time, which can be shortly after the floaters and flashes and as long as many hours, a veil or dark curtain can appear usually coming from the peripheral field of vision to the center of vision. When this occurs one can lose all meaningful vision.
Retinal detachments are a true medical emergency. The earlier they are treated, the better the chance of a full restoration of good vision. The longer the retina is detached, the less the likelihood of visual restoration. Surgery is the only treatment for a true retinal detachment. There are many different types of surgical repair of a retinal detachment depending on the type and the extent of the detachment.