There are three main types of retinal detachment, determined by the exact mechanism that caused the detachment.

Your retina is the innermost layer of the back of your eye. It plays a critical role in vision, receiving the light that enters your eyes and turning it into electrical signals that your brain can interpret.

It’s possible for your retina to come loose from the back of your eye. This is called retinal detachment.

Common symptoms of retinal detachment include:

Let’s review the three main types of retinal detachment, how they’re treated, and how you might prevent them.

Medical emergency

If you’re experiencing signs of retinal detachment, treat it as a medical emergency.

When your retina becomes detached, it’s starved of blood and oxygen. A detached retina can be treated, but the longer it remains detached without treatment, the greater the risk of serious complications, including permanent blindness. Call emergency medical services or have someone drive you to the nearest emergency room.

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Illustration by Sophia Smith

Let’s take a detailed look at each of the three types of retinal detachment.

Rhegmatogenous retinal detachment

The most common type of retinal detachment is called rhegmatogenous (pronounced reg-ma-todge-en-us). This type of retinal detachment happens to about 1 in 10,000 people.

A rhegmatogenous retinal detachment occurs when you develop a break, small hole, or tear in your retina. Liquified vitreous fluid inside of your eye can then pass through this break and collect behind your retina. This causes your retina to come loose and detach.

Your retina can become detached partially or fully, and it may occur over the course of a few hours to a few months.

Rhegmatogenous retinal detachments are often a result of natural aging but can also be caused by injuries or as the result of previous eye surgeries. They are also more common in people who are nearsighted.

Tractional retinal detachment

Tractional retinal detachment (TRD) — also called retinal traction detachment (RTD) — does not involve any breaks or tears in your retina. Instead, formation of dense fibrous strands of inflamed vitreous bind to the retina, causing membrane contraction and pulling that result in your retina detaching.

TRD is most often a result of diabetes. If you have diabetes, the various metabolic changes or imbalances in your body can lead to a variety of complications. One example is blood vessel closure.

When this happens to the retina, it leads to ischemia due to lack of oxygen. In response, the retina signals the growth of new, abnormal blood vessels that leak and bleed into the vitreous. This situation leads to inflammation and scar tissue membranes within the vitreous that can cause TRD.

Other causes of TRD include:

If you have diabetes or another condition that increases your risk of TRD, it’s important to consult with your primary care doctor or ophthalmologist about a schedule for regular screening, often once per year.

Exudative retinal detachment

The third type of retinal detachment is exudative retinal detachment. In this case, fluid leaking from the underlying choroidal layer collects beneath your retina and floats your retina from the back of your eye.

If you have an exudative retinal detachment, your retina does not have any tears, holes, or breaks. Instead, the fluid builds up behind your retina by getting past your blood-retina barrier because of things like inflammation or infection.

Causes of exudative retinal detachment include:

If you think you’re experiencing a retinal detachment, you should seek medical help right away.

Because retinal detachments cause some level of vision impairment, you should not drive yourself.

If not treated promptly, all types of retinal detachment can lead to permanent vision loss or impairment, including blindness.

Retinal detachments are treated differently depending on the type of detachment. Let’s quickly review the treatment for each type.

Rhegmatogenous retinal detachment treatment

This type of retinal detachment is treated surgically. The surgeon will repair the tears in your retina and reattach it to the back of your eye. There are several different surgeries that might be used:

Tractional retinal detachment treatment

TRD is treated with a combination of methods. An ophthalmologist first determines the root cause of the vitreo-retinal traction. You might need surgery, specifically a vitrectomy, to remove traction bands, inflammatory debris, and cloudy vitreous.

You will also receive a treatment plan that focuses on managing the cause of your TRD. For example, if diabetes was the cause, your treatment might include a new eating plan and physical activity regimen or a different insulin management plan.

Exudative retinal detachment treatment

Treatments for exudative retinal detachment depend on the underlying cause, but surgery is rarely needed.

Medical treatments could include corticosteroids or immunosuppressives.

The best way to prevent retinal detachment is to get regular eye exams. Doctors may be able to find early signs of retinal detachment and intervene before you start to notice symptoms.

If you have a disease that puts you at greater risk for retinal detachment, such as diabetes, ask your doctor what preventive measures might be available to you.

Whenever you might be at risk of an eye injury, it’s important to wear appropriate protective eyewear.

You might still have some questions about the different types of retinal detachments. Let’s briefly answer two of the most asked questions.

What is the most common cause or type of retinal detachment?

Rhegmatogenous retinal detachments are the most common type. The most common causes of retinal detachments are advanced age and eye injuries.

What type of retinal detachment is from trauma?

Trauma or injury can cause any of the three types of retinal detachments.

Trauma that creates a tear in your retina can lead to rhegmatogenous retinal detachment. Trauma that does not tear your retina can still potentially cause leaking choroidal fluid to enter the space underneath your retina and lead to exudative retinal detachment. One specific example is a post-traumatic inflammatory condition called sympathetic ophthalmia.

If your injury causes vitreous traction bands to pull on your retina, it could lead to TRD.

There are three main types of retinal detachment. Each has its own causes, characteristics, and treatments, but all are medical emergencies. If you experience signs of retinal detachment, get medical help right away.