Unless the macula is re-attached immediately, sight will be permanently damaged.'You can see tears and detachment in any age group, but most are caused by trauma such as a blow to the eye or in people who are very short-sighted,' says Rob Fuller, an ophthalmic surgeon at Dorset County Hospital.'Sometimes tears and holes can heal by themselves, but when the retina starts to peel away, you need a sight-saving operation as soon as possible.

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'My doctor did ask me if I could remember having taken a blow to the eye,' she says.

'But I couldn't remember anything.' Her symptoms had appeared a month earlier, when she found she was unable to read the small print on the menus in the restaurant where she was working.

'The only definitive way to diagnose the condition is to use dilating drops to open up the pupil, so you can have a good look at the back of the eye and retina. While some can deteriorate into detachment within hours, others can take longer.

Up to a month or so is not that unusual, but we suspect some people may have symptoms for much longer.' if the tear is large or retinal detachment is about to occur, surgery within a few hours is vital.

i also started to get floaters.' Kirsten, who was in Johannesburg-on a gap year trip, rang her parents, who insisted she see an eye specialist.

'At first, I was reluctant because it would cost a lot.

As the peeling continues, the tear becomes larger, forming an inverted U-shape.

The danger is if it reaches the macula - the tiny spot in the middle of the retina that provides central detailed vision.

Untreated, these, too, would have led to a detachment.

'While he was explaining things to me, I managed to keep calm.

'This is an effective technique for a retinal detachment,' says Mr Fuller.