Is a Retinal Detachment an Emergency?

Posted on Dec 5, 2022

While most eye conditions are not considered emergencies, one of the ones that are considered emergent is a retinal detachment. Since a retinal detachment can progress to permanent vision loss quickly, it should be treated as soon as possible and may require emergent surgery. To determine whether a retinal detachment is present and if it should be treated emergently, a dilated eye exam will be performed to evaluate the retina.


What Constitutes an Emergency Eye Condition?

The term emergency has a specific medical meaning. A medical emergency is a condition that requires immediate intervention or treatment to prevent permanent loss of function or loss of life.

In the eyes, the threat of permanent loss of vision within hours would constitute an emergency.

Other potential emergency eye conditions include things that could lead to a stroke in the brain or major blood vessels.


Determining if a Retinal Detachment is an Emergency

An eye doctor will evaluate the retina and the vision in the affected eye to determine the prognosis of the retinal detachment.

If the retinal detachment has already broken away the center of the vision, called the macula, the retinal detachment may have already caused permanent damage and it would not be an emergency condition.

However, if the macula area is still attached and the retinal detachment is encroaching on the area, the vision can still be preserved if treated promptly and appropriately.

The vision in the eye when the retinal detachment occurs can also affect whether or not it is considered an emergency.

If the eye has already had severely reduced vision, it may not be considered an emergency even if the retinal detachment has the macula area intact.

Determining whether a retinal detachment is an emergency should be done by an eye doctor after a thorough eye examination.


Signs of Retinal Detachment

The hallmark signs of a retinal detachment include new floaters in the vision, flashes of light in one eye, and a veil or curtain that appears over the vision.

Floaters can appear as small black or gray spots in the vision that move when the eyes move. One or two floaters can be perfectly normal, however, if there is an onslaught of several new floaters at once it can be a sign of a retinal detachment.

Flashes of light may appear like a lightning strike or fireworks within the eye. If the flashes are in only one eye and continue even when the eye is closed, it is likely that the flashes of light are due to pulling on the cells of the retina.

A common concern with any traction on the retina is the development of a full retinal detachment.

When a retinal detachment occurs, it is possible that the area of the retina which has detached loses the ability to create vision. This can lead to an area of the vision going black or having a veil come over it.

Usually, the veil or curtain effect will be in the periphery and not affect the center of vision.


Emergent Treatment for a Retinal Detachment

If the retinal detachment is determined to be an emergency, the doctor will make a referral to a retinal surgeon.

The surgeon may use one of several procedures to attempt to reattach the retina and preserve the vision.



Our eye doctors at Eye Theory in Houston, TX excel in the prescription of contact lenses, glasses and various eye diseases.  Call our optometrist at 832.831.7386 or schedule an appointment online if you would like to learn more about retinal detachment.  Our eye doctor, Dr. Jonathan Tsao, provides the highest quality optometry services and eye exams in the Midtown, Downtown, Museum District, Montrose, East Downtown, and Southside Commons (Southside Place) vicinities of Houston, Texas as well as our newest location in the Stone Oaks neighborhood of San Antonio, Texas.



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