Harvard Women's Health Watch

Surgery for a retinal detachment

Occasionally, the vitreous gel (the egg white–like substance that fills most of the eyeball) pulls on the retina with enough force to tear it. This separation of the retina from the back of the eye allows fluid from inside the eye to enter through this tear and detach the retina from the choroid (the nutrient-rich layer underlying the retina). If this rupture is caught and treated early, a retinal detachment (see illustration) may be prevented.

Retinal detachment

If not treated, the retinal detachment may continue until the retina is nearly totally detached from the back of the eye and maintains a connection only at the optic nerve in the back of the eye and the ciliary body (a ring of tissue that encircles the lens) in the front of the eye.

An ophthalmologist can repair tears that have not yet caused detachment by making tiny burns around the tear with a laser (laser photocoagulation) or applying a freezing probe (cryopexy) to the area, causing scar tissue to form and permanently sealing the tear. Both procedures are performed on an outpatient basis with a local anesthetic. (For more about these procedures, see Harvard Women's Health Watch, March 2008.)

To continue reading this article, you must login.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »