As the vitreous pulls away from the retina, the jelly can sometimes pull hard enough to cause a hole or tear to develop in the retina. Patients with a retinal tear will usually, but not always, experience flashes or floaters.
Most retinal tears need to be sealed so that they do not become larger, or allow fluid to track under and lift off the retina (retinal detachment). An analogy would be a hole that has developed in a room’s wallpaper. The hole in the wallpaper usually needs to be repaired before it gets larger and leads to the wallpaper bubbling off the wall.
Retinal tears can be treated using either laser photocoagulation or cryotherapy (freezing). Laser photocoagulation is a procedure where a special light is directed to the retina and used to create burns in the retina surrounding the retinal tear. Cyrotherapy is a procedure where a freezing probe is placed on the surface of the eye and used to create a freeze extending to the retina surrounding the retinal tear. Whether laser photocoagulation or cryotherapy is used, as the eye heals a scar will form sealing the retinal tear and in most cases preventing a retinal detachment from occurring. Both laser photocoagulation and cryotherapy are usually performed in the doctor’s office. The treatment starts the healing process immediately, however, the full seal does not occur for up to 4 to 6 weeks and your ophthalmologist may have you limit your activities during that time. Treatment of retinal tears is usually successful in preventing retinal detachment. Unfortunately, occasionally even after treatment of a retinal tear, retinal detachment may still occur. Therefore, if any new symptoms arise following treatment of a retinal tear the retina should be re-examined and even in the absence of new symptoms continued follow up after treatment of a retinal tear is needed.