Updated on  October 11, 2023
5 min read

Retinal Tear Causes, Symptoms & Treatments

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What is a Torn Retina?

A retinal tear is a rip in the light-sensitive layer of tissue at the back of the eye (retina). If you have a retinal tear, you may need treatment to prevent retinal detachment

retinal detachment 1 edited

A detached retina is a medical emergency that can lead to vision loss. This serious eye condition occurs when the retina moves from its normal position. A torn retina increases your risk for retinal detachment and irreversible vision loss. 

What Causes a Retinal Tear?

The most common cause of a retinal tear is posterior vitreous detachment (PVD). This happens when the gel-like substance inside the eye (vitreous) shrinks and separates from the retina.

Normally, PVD occurs without a problem. Sometimes, the vitreous pulls away abnormally and causes the retina to tear.

Eye trauma can also cause a torn retina, but this is less common.

Retinal Tear Treatment Options

A retina specialist will check for retinal tears by placing drops in your eyes to dilate the pupil. They’ll look through a special lens to assess any changes inside the eye.

Eye surgery is the most common treatment for a torn or detached retina. There are two main types of surgery, and both are outpatient procedures.

Laser Treatment (Photocoagulation)

Photocoagulation uses a medical laser to create controlled burns around the tear in your retina. These burns form scar tissue that repairs the torn retina.

During laser surgery:

  1. Your eye surgeon numbs your eye with anesthetic drops
  2. The surgeon directs a laser beam through your pupil and onto your retina
  3. The medical laser burns the retinal tissue around the tear (this creates scar tissue that seals the tear and prevents retinal detachment)
  4. Your eye surgeon may prescribe a topical steroid to prevent inflammation

Freezing (Cryopexy)

Like laser surgery, cryopexy treats retinal tears by creating a scar. Instead of burning, it uses freezing therapy.

During cryopexy:

  1. Your eye surgeon numbs the eye
  2. The surgeon places a freezing probe directly over the tear on the white of your eye (sclera
  3. You may feel some pressure or a cold sensation
  4. The cold from the probe forms a scar around the tear and holds your retina in place
  5. Your doctor may give you special eye drops to keep your eye from swelling

Conservative Treatments

Some retinal tears are considered low risk without much chance of progressing to retinal detachment. For these cases, no treatment is required.

Sometimes the eye spontaneously starts to form a stabilizing scar around the tear. Once a tear has been identified, it must be followed by a trained specialist to ensure it doesn’t worsen. Retinal tears need to be monitored by a specialist who can take action if necessary.

Who is at Risk of Developing a Retinal Tear?

There are several risk factors for having a torn retina:

  • Advanced age
  • Myopia (nearsightedness)
  • Family history of retinal tears or detachment
  • Eye injury
  • Previous eye surgery, such as cataract surgery
  • Thin patches in the retinal tissue (lattice degeneration)

However, there’s no way to predict who might get a retinal tear or when it will occur.

Warning Signs of a Torn Retina

A torn retina must be checked by an ophthalmologist or eye doctor immediately. Otherwise, your retina may detach, resulting in vision loss. 

Speak with an ophthalmologist immediately if you notice any of these warning signs:

  • You see flashes of light 
  • You notice many new floaters 
  • You experience sudden blurry vision
  • A shadow appears in your peripheral vision (side vision)
  • A grey curtain covers some of your field of vision

How to Prevent a Retinal Tear

It’s not always possible to prevent a retinal tear. However, you can lessen your risk for retinal conditions by:

  • Wearing protective eyewear during contact sports and hobbies that may cause eye injuries
  • Getting routine eye exams
  • Notifying your eye doctor right away about a sudden appearance of floaters

You may be able to prevent retinal detachment if you seek immediate treatment for a retinal tear.


A retinal tear is a rip in the thin, light-sensitive tissue that lines the back of your eye. A torn retina increases the risk of retinal detachment, a medical emergency.

If you have a retinal tear, you must seek prompt treatment to prevent retinal detachment and vision loss. Common symptoms of a torn retina include a sudden appearance of floaters or flashes of light.

Retinal tear treatment usually involves eye surgery. The most common surgical procedures include freezing treatment and laser surgery.

Frequently Asked Questions 

Here are some common questions and answers about retinal tears:

Can a retinal tear heal on its own?

Not all retinal tears need treatment. Low-risk tears may be identified in people who have no symptoms. These tears may not require treatment.

Some retinal tears heal themselves, meaning they develop adhesion around the tear without treatment. 

Is a retinal tear an emergency?

A retinal tear can lead to retinal detachment, a medical emergency. A person experiencing vision loss, impairment, or any symptoms linked to a detached or torn retina should seek emergency medical help.

How long does a retinal tear take to heal?

You’ll require two to four weeks to recover following retinal tear surgery.

How many retinal laser treatments are usually needed?

Laser treatments create a scar within one to two weeks that works to seal the retinal tear. Following treatment, it’s essential to monitor the eye to ensure that the tear remains appropriately sealed and that no other tears are developing.

Occasionally, people require more than one treatment to stabilize the retina.

What are the side effects of retinal tear laser surgery?

Retinal laser surgery is a safe treatment with almost no restrictions and minimal risks and side effects.

Some people may notice blurring or a decrease in peripheral vision and night vision. However, these effects are typically temporary and go away after a few weeks.

What is the retinal tear laser surgery success rate?

Retinal laser treatment has a success rate of around 90 to 95 percent. Most retinal tears are effectively treated and don’t require re-retreatment. Some people experience retinal tear enlargement (despite surgery). 

These people may require further laser or cryopexy treatment. If a retinal detachment occurs, surgery is necessary.

Updated on  October 11, 2023
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The information provided on VisionCenter.org should not be used in place of actual information provided by a doctor or a specialist.
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