Retinal Detachments

Retinal Holes, Retinal Tears

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Duke retinal specialists diagnose and correct retinal holes and tears as early as possible, before the small breaks lead to retinal detachment, which may require immediate surgery. Our retinal specialists are on call to respond immediately to emergencies, and our dedicated eye operating rooms are always available to treat retinal detachments. We also have the advanced training, skill, and expertise to treat complex problems such as abnormal scar tissue known as proliferative vitreoretinopathy (PVR) that can sometimes arise following retinal detachment. Our goal is to accurately and quickly diagnose your retinal condition to maximize your visual outcome.

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Seeking Care for Retinal Detachments

New floaters and flashes may be a sign of a retinal tear or detachment, especially if they suddenly increase in frequency or are accompanied by a dark curtain or any loss of vision. If you experience these symptoms or are at risk for retinal detachment due to nearsightedness, family history, genetic predisposition, a previous history of retinal detachment, a history of any eye surgery, or a serious eye injury, you need to be seen by an eye specialist immediately. Our subspecialty trained retina; doctors can quickly determine the severity of your condition and recommend the most appropriate treatment.

Our retinal specialists are also experts in treating other common conditions, such as vitreomacular traction, which occurs when the vitreous gel in your eye becomes “stuck” to -- and, over time, pulls on -- your retina, leading to a macular hole. The resulting retinal swelling or break and decreased vision require advanced care from our subspecialists, who have additional training in retinal diseases.

Our Locations

Duke Health offers locations throughout the Triangle. Find one near you.

Treatments for Retinal Detachments



A high-intensity beam of light energy is focused on the retina to weld together a retinal tear.



A freezing probe seals the retinal tear then secures the retina to the eye wall. This outpatient procedure is performed on the outside of the eye and can prevent a retinal hole or tear from progressing to a retinal detachment. Healing takes about one to two weeks.

Pneumatic Retinopexy


During this office-based procedure, a gas bubble is injected into your eye. Your head and body are positioned so that the bubble pushes the retina back into position against the wall of the eye. The procedure is often followed by laser or cryotherapy, which seals off the retinal break. Maintaining the appropriate position in the days following the procedure secures the retina in its place and is important to the success of the procedure.

Scleral Buckle


A flexible silicone band is sewn around the eye in the operating room to secure the retina in place. May be performed in combination with cryotherapy or laser surgery. 



Surgically removes the vitreous gel -- the clear, jelly-like substance that fills the center of your eye behind the lens -- through tiny incisions. May be performed in combination with other retinal detachment procedures, as it gives your eye surgeon better access to the back of your eye. The vitreous gel will be replaced with fluid, gas, or oil bubble according to your eye’s specific needs.

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A lighted instrument with a special lens provides your doctor with a 3D view of the inside or your eye. Careful ophthalmoscopy is the most important way to detect retinal tears, holes, and detachments.



Special ultra-wide-field photographs of the back part of the eye can help your doctor see retinal tears or detachments.

Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT)


High-resolution scans provide detailed information that may help your doctor assess damage to the retina. 



Noninvasive sound waves travel through the eye. They bounce off your retina and other parts of your eye to create images that help your doctor detect retinal tears, holes, or detachment.

Pioneers and Experts in Retinal Detachment Repair

Latest Advances in Retinal Imaging
We are one of the few centers in the U.S. to use optical coherence tomography (OCT) imaging in the operating room. The technology allows us to visualize the layers of the eye with greater detail and identify subtleties and patterns that guide our treatment recommendations. Our researchers and doctors are pioneers in this intraoperative imaging technology. Also, out doctors are national leaders in using OCT and interpreting the results.

High-Volume Referral Center
As a result of our advanced training and skill in handling complex retinal detachments such as recurrent retinal detachments with proliferative vitreoretinopathy, we receive a high volume of referrals from other doctors. We are frequently called upon to help people who have recurrent retinal detachments or other complex problems following previous surgeries elsewhere.

Retinal Surgery Pioneers
The field of retinal surgery was pioneered at Duke by Robert Machemer, MD, the former chair of our ophthalmology department. Many of our senior surgeons trained under Dr. Machemer, who is widely considered to be the “father of vitreoretinal surgery.” Vitreoretinal refers to treatment of the retina, macula, and vitreous -- the gel and fluid that fill the eye.

Compassionate, Supportive Environment
We offer patient support services, including educational materials and programs, a low vision rehabilitation program, and a dedicated social worker to help you and your loved ones manage your condition and maximize your quality of life.

Best Eye Hospital in North Carolina

Where you receive your care matters. Duke University Hospital is proud of our team and the exceptional care they provide. They are why our ophthalmology program is ranked seventh in the nation and is the highest-ranked program in North Carolina, according to U.S. News & World Report for 2023–2024.

This page was medically reviewed on 05/28/2020 by