Retinal detachment is when the retina detaches from the supporting tissue at the back of the eye. Secondary, or exudative, retinal detachment occurs in response to another condition, such as inflammation, blood vessel problems, or injury.

Since retinal cells are necessary for vision, retinal detachment can cause permanent vision loss and is only avoidable with prompt treatment. Surgery and anti-inflammatory medications are ways to treat secondary retinal detachment.

This article provides an overview of secondary retinal detachment before discussing its symptoms and causes. It also details the diagnosis and treatment for this condition.

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According to a 2022 review, retinal detachment is a serious eye condition. The retina is a layer of tissue that lines the back of the eye. During retinal detachment, the retinal cells separate from the blood vessels that feed them.

Doctors and scientists do not generally use the term secondary retinal detachment. Instead, they may typically refer to this as exudative retinal detachment. It occurs when fluid builds up behind the eye, but there is no tear. It may be the result of injury, trauma, or another condition.

A 2018 study states that according to other studies, for certain forms of retinal detachment, there is a 10% risk of further detachment. This risk persists despite an initially effective surgical treatment. After surgical treatment for a first retinal detachment, every further surgery increases the risk of recurrent retinal detachment by 21–26%.

Learn more about retinal detachment.

According to the National Eye Institute, retinal detachment does not always cause symptoms, particularly if only a small part of the retina detaches. However, larger detachments can cause symptoms.

Retinal detachment can affect one or both eyes. Some common symptoms include:

  • impaired vision
  • a lot of new floaters in the field of vision
  • flashes of light
  • a dark shadow, or “curtain,” affecting the sides or middle of the field of vision

Anyone with symptoms of retinal detachment needs to seek medical attention immediately. This could be from an eye specialist or emergency room staff.

Exudative retinal detachment occurs as the result of the accumulation of excess fluid behind the eye. This fluid buildup may be due to various conditions. They include inflammatory conditions, such as:

Other conditions may include:

Exudative retinal detachment may also result from injury, trauma, or surgical procedures.

Research has shown that a second retinal detachment is a possible complication of surgery for retinal detachment. However, a second retinal detachment can arise for the same reasons as the first.

A 2022 review explains the main diagnostic tool for retinal detachment is a dilated funduscopic exam. This method allows healthcare professionals to spot signs of retinal detachment.

A funduscopic exam is when healthcare professionals use a device called an ophthalmoscope to examine the back of the inner eye. This part of the eye is the fundus, which contains the retina. A dilated funduscopic exam is when they first administer special eye drops into the eyes. These eye drops dilate the pupils, allowing a better look at the fundus.

Other diagnostic tools include ultrasound, CT scans, and MRI scans. For people with a history of retinal detachment, healthcare professionals will generally also examine the individual’s medical history.

Exudative retinal detachment is the result of inflammation. This means that treatment often involves anti-inflammatory medications.

However, some cases of retinal detachment require surgery to reattach the retina.

Surgical treatment options for retinal detachment include:

  • A vitrectomy: This method involves replacing the gelatinous substance inside the eye.
  • Scleral buckling: This involves placing a small band around the eye, which pushes the retina closer to the back of the eye.
  • Pneumatic retinopexy: This refers to injecting a gas bubble into the eye, which pushes the retina back.
  • Laser surgery or cryosurgery: These techniques involve using lasers or freezing instruments to seal any retinal tears.

It may not be possible to prevent retinal detachment. However, preventing injury to the eye by wearing eye goggles or other safety gear when participating in behaviors that might be harmful can help prevent detachment due to injury.

The following are answers to common questions about retinal detachment.

What are the chances of a second retinal detachment?

After effective treatment for retinal detachment, there may be a 10% risk of a second retinal detachment.

Can a retina detach twice in the same eye?

Yes, the same eye can experience multiple consecutive retinal detachments.

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Retinal detachments occur when the retina pulls apart from the back of the eye. This condition requires immediate treatment, which usually involves surgery.

However, surgical complications can sometimes cause a second retinal detachment. The same is true of injuries and various health conditions. However, surgery remains the main treatment for recurrent retinal detachment.

Secondary, or exudative, retinal attachment occurs due to fluid buildup behind the eye that may be due to an injury, trauma, or another condition. If a person experiences retinal detachment, they need to contact a healthcare professional right away.