Retina Specialist

A retina specialist is an eye doctor who specializes in treating conditions that affect your retina and your vitreous humor, parts located in the back of your eye. Some conditions that retina specialists treat are age-related macular degeneration, retinal detachment and diabetic eye disease.

What is a retina specialist?

A retina specialist is a medical doctor who specializes in the eyes (ophthalmology) and in surgery and diseases that affect the vitreous body and retina of the eye. Vitreoretinal medicine is another name for this type of practice.

The retina is the part of your eye that has light-sensing cells. Light comes in and becomes electrical signals that travel to your brain through the optic nerve.

The vitreous body, also called vitreous humor or vitreous fluid, is a substance resembling gel that lies between the lens and the retina. The vitreous humor helps your eyes keep their shape.

How many years of schooling do you need to become a retina specialist?

You first need to complete a bachelor’s degree. Then you’ll spend four years in medical school, followed by a one-year internship. After that, you’ll do a three-year residency in ophthalmology and then a two-year fellowship in vitreoretinal medicine.

Ophthalmologists with subspecialty fellowship training complete as many as 10 additional years of education after finishing college.

Retina specialists continue their educations throughout their careers as they learn new techniques and technologies and keep up with the advances in eye care.

Retina specialist vs. ophthalmologist: what’s the difference?

A retina specialist is an ophthalmologist with additional training in diseases of the vitreous body and the retina. An ophthalmologist is a subspecialty doctor who focuses on preventing and treating diseases of the eyes.


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What diseases do retina specialists treat?

A retina specialist is able to diagnose and treat many diseases, including those that affect your retina and the macula, which is part of the retina. These professionals also treat conditions that affect your vitreous.

Diseases that affect the retina and the vitreous include:

What do retina specialists do?

Retina specialists manage serious and chronic eye conditions. Pediatric retina specialists manage conditions that babies are born with (congenital conditions). Uveitis retina specialists manage serious inflammatory conditions like infections and uveitis.

They can give intravitreal injections, or shots into the vitreous, and place intravitreal implants.

They can do a variety of surgeries like vitrectomies and repair of a ruptured globe.


What should I expect at an appointment with a retina specialist?

If you’re seeing a retina specialist, especially if it’s your first visit, you should expect a long appointment, perhaps as long as three hours.

You should ask a friend or family member to come with you to your appointment. You’ll need a driver because the eye drops used for the exam will temporarily alter your vision.

Your provider will want to know your medical history, any symptoms you might be having and any medications that you take.

Your provider will do a complete eye exam after putting drops in your eyes that dilate them (make the pupils bigger). The pupil is the black hole in the middle of the colored part of your eye.

Making the pupil larger makes it easier for your doctor to see the back of your eyes. The back of your eye is where your retina, macula and optic nerve are.

What tests do retina specialists use for diagnosis?

Your retina specialist may need a variety of tests to diagnose you correctly. These may include:

  • Slit lamp exam.
  • Indirect ophthalmoscopy exam. In this exam, your provider uses a lighted instrument and a lens to examine inside the back of your eye. This allows your provider to see more of the back of your eye.
  • Optical coherence tomography.
  • Fluorescein angiography.
  • Indocyanine green angiography imaging. This test uses injectable indocyanine green, a dye, to allow certain parts of your eye to be more visible during imaging.

What questions should I ask a retina specialist?

If you have an appointment with a retina specialist, you may want to take a written list of questions and comments with you to an appointment, especially if it’s your first visit. You’ll want to make sure you understand everything you can about your condition and how to treat it.

If you’re comfortable having someone in the appointment with you, a friend or family member may be able to help you by taking notes. This can help you to be clear about your condition and the suggested treatment.

Here are some questions you might want to ask:

  • What condition do I have?
  • What causes this condition?
  • How will it affect my vision?
  • Should I make any changes to my everyday life?
  • What symptoms should I watch for?
  • What should I do if I have these types of symptoms?
  • Is this an inherited condition? If so, what are my chances of passing it down?

If you need tests, you might ask:

  • What will this test tell you?
  • When will I get the results of the test?
  • Are there any risks or side effects related to this test?
  • Will I need other tests?

When discussing treatment, you might ask:

  • What are my treatment options?
  • Which treatment do you suggest, and why?
  • What should I know about this treatment (medicine, procedure, etc.)?
  • How long does this treatment last?
  • What are the risks and benefits of this treatment?
  • How often do I need to have appointments with you?

Do I need a referral to see a retina specialist?

Your general eye provider, an optometrist or a general ophthalmology doctor will refer you to a retinal specialist.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Retina specialists are highly trained eye care providers who share your goal of preserving your vision and keeping you healthy. If you have the type of condition that requires you to see a retina specialist, it’s important to do so as soon as you’re able. In most cases, early diagnosis and treatment provide the best chance for a good outcome.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/26/2023.

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