A retinal tear is a rip in the layer of light-detecting cells at the back of your eye called the retina. It’s a medical emergency that can lead to permanent vision loss if not treated quickly.

Small retinal tears may be manageable with rest and by avoiding activities that could worsen them.

More serious tears may need repair with either laser surgery or a procedure called cryopexy, which involves applying intense cold.

Read on to learn about retinal tears including why they develop, how they’re treated, and what recovery looks like.

The inside of your eye is filled with a clear gel called vitreous fluid. This fluid is attached to your retina when you’re born but can pull away as you age.

This age-related pulling away of your vitreous fluid from your retina is known as posterior vitreous detachment (PVD).

PVD often doesn’t cause problems, but for some people, the pulling away of vitreous fluid can tear the retina. PVD is the most common cause of a retinal tear.

In a large 2023 study, researchers found the risk of retinal tear or retinal detachment was 9.9% at the time of PVD.

Most retinal tears occur in people older than 50 years. Other risk factors for developing retinal tears include:

Retinal tears don’t always cause symptoms. When symptoms do happen, they can include sudden:

A rhegmatogenous retinal detachment (RRD) is a potential complication of a retinal tear.

An RRD happens when fluid passes through the tear and pushes the retina away from the back of your eye.

Retinal detachment can cause severe and permanent loss of vision without prompt medical attention.

Learn more about the difference between a retinal tear and a retinal detachment.

Retinal tears and detached retinas can cause similar symptoms and are medical emergencies that require immediate treatment.

Medical emergency

Go to the nearest emergency room if you develop sudden:

  • floaters
  • flashes of light in your vision
  • the appearance of a curtain or shadow moving across your vision
  • blurry vision

A vision specialist can diagnose a retinal tear with a dilated eye exam. During this procedure, the doctor puts drops into your eye to widen your pupil and examines your eye with a special magnifying lens.

A dilated eye exam is generally painless. Your eye doctor may also gently press on your eyelids during your examination. Some people may experience some discomfort from this.

Low risk retinal tears not causing symptoms might not require treatment. When treatment is necessary, doctors often use one of two surgical options.

Retinal tear surgery

Doctors use two main types of surgery to treat retinal tears.


Photocoagulation involves using a laser to seal your retina to the back of your eye. It helps prevent fluid from passing through the tear, which can lead to retinal detachment.

The procedure usually takes fewer than 15 minutes and can be performed in an ophthalmologist’s office.


Cryopexy involves applying extreme cold with a probe to your eye to seal your retina to your eye and keep fluid from passing through. I

The ophthalmologist can also perform it in their office. This treatment usually takes less than half an hour.

Learn more about retinal surgery.

The outlook for a retinal tear is often excellent if diagnosed before it progresses to retinal detachment.

About 90% of people receive successful treatment with surgery, although some need more than one procedure.

You might have pain for a few hours after your surgery but over-the-counter pain medications can reduce reduce discomfort.

You’ll need plenty of rest for a few weeks after your procedure and won’t be able to exercise vigorously during this period.

Retinal tears often develop without a clear cause and often aren’t preventable. You may be able to lower your risk by taking precautions to avoid eye injury or to reduce your risk of complications, such as:

  • wearing safety googles or visors during sports with a high risk of eye injury
  • wearing protective eye equipment when doing other activities with a high risk of eye injury, such as garden work or home repairs
  • wearing sunglasses when outside
  • receiving prompt treatment for eye injuries even if they seem minor

Here are some frequently asked questions people have about retinal tears.

What is the most common cause of retinal tears?

Retinal tears often occur due to PVD caused by aging. Trauma or surgical complications are other potential causes.

How serious is a torn retina?

A torn retina is a serious medical condition that can lead to permanent vision loss. Immediate medical attention is necessary to evaluate the tear and determine whether surgery is required.

What does your vision look like with a retinal tear?

Signs of a retinal tear can include blurry vision, the sudden appearance of many floaters, or seeing flashing lights.

Can a retina tear heal itself?

Some small retinal tears can heal by themselves. However, all retinal tears need prompt evaluation from a medical professional.

A retinal tear is a rip in the layer of tissue in the back of your eye called the retina. A retinal tear can lead to permanent vision loss, but most people who promptly get medical attention heal without complications.

It’s essential to get immediate emergency medical attention any time you notice potential symptoms of retinal tears, such as new floaters, blurry vision, or flashing lights.

The most common treatment options are laser surgery or the application of extreme cold to your retina.