There are many types of retinal diseases. These conditions can be caused by genes you inherit from your parents or from retinal damage that occurs throughout your life. Some types of retinal diseases are more common than others.

Your retina is a layer of specialized cells in the back of your eye that converts light into electrical signals that your brain can interpret. Diseases that involve this layer of cells are known as retinal diseases.

Retinal diseases are the most common cause of blindness in lower income countries and the second most common cause in higher income countries.

Many different types of retinal diseases have been identified. Some are caused by inherited genes, and others are caused by retinal damage that develops over time.

This article looks at some of the most common retinal diseases, including their causes, symptoms, and treatment options.

The lens at the front of your eye focuses light that comes through your pupil. The light then hits specialized layers of cells at the back of your eye called the retina. Retinal cells convert the light into electrical signals that travel to your brain via the optic nerve.

Retinal diseases are conditions that affect your retina. A wide range of conditions can cause problems with your retina, such as:

  • a direct injury to retinal tissue, such as a retinal tear
  • complications of other diseases, such as diabetic retinopathy
  • diseases inherited from your parents, such as Stargardt disease
  • degenerative changes, such as age-related macular degeneration

We look at some of the most common retinal diseases below.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the most common retinal diseases.

Age-related macular degeneration

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) accounts for 8.7% of blindness diagnoses worldwide. It’s a progressive disease characterized by the breakdown of your macula. The macula is the part of your retina that controls your central vision.

The risk of developing age-related macular degeneration is highest among people who:

  • are over age 55 years
  • have a family history of the eye disease
  • smoke

Limited research comparing AMD prevalence across different racial and ethnic groups suggests that it’s more prevalent in white people between ages 75 and 84 years old compared with other groups.

The first noticeable symptoms often include changes in your central vision and difficulty reading. You may notice that you cannot see fine details in your central vision, whether you’re looking at an object close up or at a distance. As it progresses, you may notice that straight lines look wavy. You may also notice dark spots in your vision.

Diabetic retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy is the most common cause of blindness in people of typical working ages in the United States. It’s characterized by damage to the retina from chronically high blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.

Symptoms often do not appear in the early stages. When they do appear, they may include blurred vision, floaters, and vision loss.

Retinal tear

Your eye is filled with a gel-like substance called the vitreous body. As you get older, this gel peels away from your retina. This process is called posterior vitreous detachment.

Posterior vitreous detachment is the most common cause of a retinal tear. A retinal tear occurs when the gel pulls part of the retina with it. More rarely, a retinal tear can occur due to injury.

Two of the most common symptoms of a retinal tear are a sudden onset of floaters or seeing sudden flashes of light.

Retinal detachment

Retinal detachment is when your retina is pulled away from its normal position at the back of your eye. You may be at a higher risk for this condition if you have diabetic retinopathy or are extremely myopic (nearsighted).

Early symptoms may include an increase in floaters, flashes of light, or a shadow over your field of vision. Retinal detachment is a medical emergency that requires immediate medical attention.

Macular hole

A macular hole is a gap in the central part of your retina called the macula. Most cases have no apparent cause. It develops most often in people ages 60 to 80 years, and more often in women than men.

According to the National Eye Institute, early symptoms can include blurry or wavy vision. Loss of central vision may occur in the later stages of this disease.


Blastomas are cancers that start in immature cells. Retinoblastoma is an extremely rare cancer that starts in immature cells in your retina. About 90% of cases develop before age 5 years.

About 40% of diagnosed cases develop because of inherited genes, and the rest are caused by gene mutations that arise spontaneously.

In a 2017 study, researchers determined that the most common initial symptoms of a retinoblastoma were eye bulging (proptosis) followed by an abnormal white spot in the pupil (leukocoria).

Inherited retinal diseases are caused by the genes you get from your parents. They’re among the most common genetic disorders. Over 270 different genes have been identified as contributing to the development of retinal diseases.

If an inherited condition develops from a gene from just one parent, it’s known as a dominant condition. If you need a gene from both parents to develop the condition, it’s known as recessive. The majority of inherited retinal diseases are recessive.

Some of the most common inherited retinal diseases include the following:

  • Retinitis pigmentosa (Rod-cone dystrophy): Retinitis pigmentosa is the most common inherited retinal disease. It affects about 1 in 5,000 people worldwide. It’s characterized by the progressive loss of peripheral vision followed by central vision. Over 60 genes have been linked to its development.
  • Choroideremia: Chloridemia is caused by mutations in the CHM gene and causes progressive vision loss, usually starting with night blindness, primarily in males. It develops in roughly 1 in 50,000 male patients.
  • Stargardt disease: Stargardt disease leads to degenerative loss of central vision due to an abnormal ABCA4 gene. It’s thought to affect about 1 to 5 people per 10,000.
  • Cone-rod dystrophy: Cone-rod dystrophy is a group of more than 30 conditions characterized by the progressive deterioration of cells in the retina called rods and cones. More than 28 genes have been identified in its development, and it’s estimated to affect 1 to 9 people per 100,000.
  • Leber congenital amaurosis: Leber congenital amaurosis often causes blindness at birth. It’s been linked to at least 27 genes and is estimated to affect 1 to 9 people per 100,000.
  • Best vitelliform macular dystrophy (Best disease): Best disease is caused by a mutation in the VMD2 or BEST1 gene. It causes progressive loss of central visual acuity. In a 2017 study, researchers estimated its prevalence as 1 in 16,500 to 1 in 21,000 people in Olmsted County, Minnesota.

Symptoms of retinal diseases can vary, but they often include:

When to seek immediate medical attention

It’s important to seek medical attention as soon as possible if you suddenly develop:

  • floaters
  • vision loss
  • other concerning vision-related symptoms

These symptoms can be a sign of retinal detachment or other serious retinal problems that can lead to blindness if not diagnosed and treated promptly.

To diagnose retinal disease, an ophthalmologist (a doctor who specializes in eye conditions) usually asks about your personal and family medical history. They will then perform a comprehensive eye exam.

During the eye exam, they’ll inspect your retina using a device known as a slit lamp microscope or they may use a procedure known as indirect ophthalmoscopy. They may give you eye drops to dilate your eye. This helps your doctor see the inside of your eye better.

Your doctor may also perform other tests such as:

Treatment depends on which disease you have. For example, doctors sometimes treat age-related macular degeneration with:

Retinal tears and detachment often require surgical repair.

Retinoblastoma is treated with six standard treatments including:

Diabetic retinopathy is primarily treated with

  • laser treatment
  • injections
  • surgery to remove blood and scar tissue

The outlook for people with retinal diseases varies widely between conditions. Some diseases can cause complete blindness, while others might not cause noticeable symptoms.

People with some conditions like a retinal detachment may have a better outlook when they’re treated quickly. In a 2022 review of studies, researchers found that receiving macula repair within 3 days of symptom onset a was associated with a better outlook than repairing that occurs 4 to 7 days later.

According to research, a person’s outlook related to specific retinal diseases is as follows:

  • Age-related macular degeneration: Roughly 28% of people progress from intermediate to late age-related macular degeneration in 5 years.
  • Retinoblastoma: The 5-year survival rate for childhood retinoblastoma is approaching 98% to 99%. Vision is retained in most cases when the condition is treated in specialized care centers.
  • Macular hole: Surgery successfully treats a macular hole in about 90% of people if the hole has been present for less than 6 months.

Retinal diseases are conditions that cause damage to your retina. Your retina consists of specialized layers of cells at the back of your eye that convert light to electrical signals for your brain.

There are many different types of retinal diseases. Some can be caused by genes inherited from your parents, while others can be caused by retinal damage that develops throughout your life.

It’s essential to seek medical attention if you notice changes in your vision. Your outlook is best when retinal diseases are treated early.