A retinal tear can cause light flashes or a sudden increase in eye floaters. While a retinal tear is unlikely to damage vision, it can lead to serious complications such as retinal detachment.

Retinal tears become more common as a person ages.

This is because as a person gets older, their vitreous — which is a gel-like substance that moves around the retina — becomes thinner and shrinks. In some cases, the vitreous may stick to the retina and pull it hard enough to cause a tear.

This article will review the symptoms of a retinal tear, the available treatment options, and its differences with retinal detachment, as well as answer some frequently asked questions on the topic.

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The retina is a thin layer that lines the back of the eye. It is sensitive to light and responsible for sending pictures to the brain.

Retinal tears are a rip in the eye’s retina. It occurs when the vitreous gel sticks to the retina and pulls hard enough for it to tear or create a hole.

Fluid can leak through this hole, lifting the retina away from the back of the eye. This is known as retinal detachment, a serious condition that may lead to permanent vision loss.

When a retinal tear occurs, a person may notice changes in their vision. However, others may not experience any symptoms.

People may experience one or more of the following symptoms:


If a tear occurs in the retina, blood may leak into the vitreous. This can cause a large number of floaters to appear in the vision.

Vitreous floaters can also occur as the vitreous becomes more watery, which causes people to see the jelly-like pieces floating around in the watery portion.

Floaters are small dark shapes resembling little gray worms that move across a person’s field of vision as the eye moves. The shapes may also look like threads, spots, or cobwebs.

People can typically spot floaters more easily when they look at a white background.


A retinal tear may cause flashing lights or bright dots that appear similar to stars in the vision. These are an optical illusion that occurs when the vitreous gel tugs at the retina.

Flashes are not usually painful and sometimes occur when a person quickly moves their eyes from one side to another.


People with a retinal tear may notice a shadow in their peripheral vision. This can appear as a dark gray curtain that covers a part of a person’s field of vision. It may make their vision unclear or blurry.

Learn more about retinal tears.

If a person notices any symptoms of a retinal tear, such as a sudden increase in floaters, flashes, or blurred vision, they should contact a doctor immediately.

This is because delaying the treatment of a tear in the retina can lead to serious complications, such as retinal detachment.

The symptoms of retinal detachment are quite similar to the symptoms of a retinal tear, including:

  • having a new significant and sudden increase in floaters
  • experiencing flashing lights or stars in one or both eyes
  • noticing a dark shadow in the peripheral vision or the field of vision

For this reason, a person should immediately contact an ophthalmologist — an eye doctor — when they experience the above symptoms. Retinal detachment can lead to permanent vision loss if there is a delay in treatment.

Learn more about retinal detachment.

Doctors typically perform laser surgery or cryotherapy to treat retinal tears.

These treatments are safe and tend to be effective at sealing the injury and preventing progression to retinal detachment. Both are outpatient procedures.

When doctors diagnose retinal tears before a retinal detachment occurs, the outlook is usually positive. However, treatment does not completely eliminate the risk of future tears. For this reason, attending regular eye checks to monitor the retina’s health is very important.

Learn more about retinal tear treatments.

Here are some common questions about retinal tears.

How do you know if you have a retinal tear?

If a person notices symptoms such as flashing lights, dark shadows, or a significant increase in floaters in their vision, they should visit an ophthalmologist. They may have a retinal tear.

How long can retinal tears go unnoticed?

Some people do not experience any symptoms of a retinal tear, so they may not notice it for a long time.

Can a retinal tear heal itself?

People do not always need treatment for a retinal tear. Some retinal tears heal themselves. Ophthalmologists can recommend whether or not a person should undergo treatment.

Retinal tears may occur as people age when their vitreous shrinks and pulls the retina from the back of the eye. If a tear occurs, a person may notice a sudden increase in floaters, dark spots in their vision, or flashing lights. However, not everyone develops symptoms.

Regular eye checks can help diagnose retinal tears in their early stages, allowing people to receive treatment before developing any serious complications, such as retinal detachment and permanent vision loss.