Know the Symptoms of Retinal Detachment after Cataract Surgery

The symptoms of a retinal tear or detachment can occur suddenly, or they may develop gradually over time. If you experience the new onset of any of the symptoms below, contact your ophthalmologist immediately. Prompt treatment offers the best chances of vision recovery.

Floaters. These are the tiny spots and squiggles that may drift across your field of vision. Floaters are usually benign, but they may be a sign of a retinal tear or detachment, especially if they suddenly become more numerous.

Flashes. These are brief sparkles or lightning streaks that can appear at the edges of your field of vision; flashes, too, can indicate a retinal tear or detachment, particularly if they occur in conjunction with new floaters.

A streak of light that is seen only with the eyes open and exposed to light is common and usually related to reflections off the implant after cataract surgery. But flashing lights that are seen in the dark or with the eyes closed are more likely to originate from the retina.

A curtain. A dark shadow or curtain that covers part of your field of vision is a possible sign that a small retinal tear has developed into a retinal detachment.

Even if you don't experience any of these symptoms within 12 months of your cataract surgery, it's important to remain vigilant; retinal detachment can occur, by some estimates, up to 20 years after surgery.

Treatment for Detached Retina

Small holes or tears in the retina may not require treatment; however, they should be monitored by your eye doctor. If treatment is necessary, laser surgery or cryopexy (a treatment that uses a freezing metal probe) can be used to create tiny burns in the retina that help prevent further tearing and fuse the retina back in place.

If the retina has detached, you'll need to undergo more extensive surgery. Treatment is usually more successful at restoring vision when it occurs before the central part of the retina (called the macula) detaches. That's why it is so important to contact your ophthalmologist immediately if you experience any of the symptoms above. There are three main surgical procedures used to treat a retinal detachment:

Scleral buckle. This small band, which is made of plastic, silicone sponge, or rubber and wraps around the outer layer of the eye, holds the retina in place by reducing tension and pulling on the retina. The band, which cannot be seen after it's implanted, is usually left in place permanently.

Vitrectomy. The vitreous humor is removed and replaced with a gas or a silicone oil, which pushes the detached retina back toward the RPE. A scleral buckle is often installed at the same time a vitrectomy is performed.

Pneumatic retinopexy. During this procedure, the doctor will inject a small bubble of gas into the vitreous humor. The gas bubble then pushes against the retina and moves it back into place against the RPE.

Following all of these procedures, laser surgery or cryopexy is used to prevent further tearing and to fuse the retina in place.

Publication Review By: Susan B. Bressler, M.D., Harry A. Quigley, M.D., Oliver D. Schein, M.D., M.P.H.

Published: 24 Feb 2011

Last Modified: 22 Jun 2011