Retinal Tears: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

16 Oct 2023Eye Health & General Information

Are you familiar with retinal tears? These represent a serious problem that can eventually lead to vision loss if not addressed quickly.

This is because they affect the retina, the part of your eye that captures light and transmits data about it to the brain so that we can see images. A torn retina can lead to a retinal detachment which is a potentially blinding condition eye emergency.

If you want to learn more about retinal tears and how to identify as well as treat them, we’ll go over all of that here today.

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What are retinal tears?

As mentioned earlier, the retina is the thin layer at the back of your eye that captures light and sends information about images to the brain.

When we are young, the gel in the eye, known as vitreous, is attached to the retina. As we age, this gel softens and separates from the retina. In some cases, instead of separating smoothly, it peels the retina along with it and results in a retinal tear. If untreated, this tear can progress to become a retinal detachment.

A retinal detachment is an emergent condition that has resulted in your retina being separated from the underlying layers and will lead to irreversible vision loss if not treated swiftly.

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The Common Symptoms of Retinal Tears

There are many possible symptoms for retinal tears, but the most common being floaters, which are described as small specks moving about in your visual field. Below are some of the other common symptoms someone with a retinal tear may present with:

  • Flashes of light
  • Loss of peripheral vision
  • A dark curtain or shadow over your vision 
  • Blurry vision in the affected eye

If you experience any of these symptoms, you should see an eye doctor immediately for an assessment. If there is a retinal tear, it should be treated urgently before it progresses to a retinal detachment. There are even some patients who have no symptoms but with tears found incidentally, whilst having their eyes checked for other conditions.

The Causes of Retinal Tears

The main cause of retinal tears is degenerative. It starts when the vitreous gel in the eye softens and starts to separate from the retina. When there is incomplete separation, the retina tears.

Myopia, or nearsightedness, is one of the most important risk factors for developing retinal tears. There are many other conditions which increases the risk of retinal tears, including:

  • Trauma
  • Having previous retinal tears in the same eye or fellow eye
  • A family history of retinal tears or retinal detachments
  • Previous eye surgery, including cataract surgery

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The Treatment Options for Retinal Tears

Breaks in the retina, especially retinal tears, will require treatment. There are some instances where tears or holes in the retina appear to have scarred without progressing to become a larger tear or retinal detachment, but this is very uncommon, and such risks should not be taken.

The principle of treating a retinal tear is to barrier the tear and adhere the layers of the retina together. In this way, fluid is unable to get underneath the tear and it does not progress to become a retinal detachment.

The ophthalmologist first needs to assess the eye, and based on the location, size, and other factors like cataracts or bleeding in the eye, then will they determine which is the best option for managing your tear. The following options include:

  • Laser photocoagulation
  • Cryotherapy
  • Vitrectomy surgery

Laser Photocoagulation

This is the most common treatment for retinal tears. The laser treatment involves the use of a laser to seal the tears through burns created by scar tissue.

The procedure is a simple outpatient procedure which is performed under local anaesthesia. The ophthalmologist will first use a numbing eyedrop on eye, then apply a contact lens. They will then direct the laser beam through your pupil in order to make controlled burns and scars sealing the tear in the retina.

After the procedure, you should be able to go about your daily routine after an hour of rest. Sometimes the doctor will provide you with some eyedrops and schedule a follow up appointment to check that the laser done was sufficient.


Cryotherapy is an alternative to retinal tear laser surgery that replaces the heat of the laser with the chill of a freezing probe. Other than that, however, it works in much the same way and is mainly used when something about the tear (like its location) makes laser treatment difficult.

This procedure, however, is usually done in an operating theatre with a stronger anaesthetic. After numbing the eye, the doctor uses the freezing probe to create controlled and strategic scars to seal the retinal tear. After the procedure, you will usually be provided with some eyedrops to help with any ensuing swelling and inflammation.


A vitrectomy is a major eye surgery. This is usually done when the retinal tear has progressed to become a retinal detachment. However, there are some indications for performing a vitrectomy, even if it has not reached that stage. Sometimes there may be too much bleeding in the eye which obscures the view of the retina and prevents the laser from effectively burning the retina. Other times, there may be the early beginnings of a retinal detachment with fluid already seeping under the retina, and making the laser burns ineffective.

A vitrectomy involves removing some or all of the vitreous from the middle of your eye. This is done via keyhole incisions and during the surgery, a probe is inserted into the eye to perform the laser directly up close to the retina and in a very precise fashion.

At the end of the surgery, the surgeon usually leaves a bubble of gas in the eye which helps keep the retina attached. This bubble will disappear on its own over the next few weeks and your vision will then return to normal.

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Book an appointment to get assessed for retinal tears today

As we mentioned earlier, it’s essential for individuals experiencing retinal tear symptoms or who have been diagnosed with a retinal tear to consult with an ophthalmologist promptly.

Early intervention and appropriate treatment are critical for preventing the progression of the tear to a more severe condition like retinal detachment, which can lead to permanent vision loss if left untreated.

If you need help, reach out to us at Shinagawa Eye Centre. Simply call us to enquire or book an appointment so that our eye doctors can evaluate your situation and figure out if you need treatment.