Atrophic Holes

From EyeWiki

Atrophic Holes
Classification and external resources
ICD-9 361.31

Disease Entity

Retinal Hole without detachment ICD-9 code: 361.31


 An atrophic retinal hole is a break in the retina not associated with vitreoretinal traction.

Etiology and Risk Factors

Idiopathic atrophic retinal hole is the most common presentation. There are no generally accepted risk factors for this condition but lesions have been cited more often in younger myopic patients. It has been estimated about 5% of the general population has atrophic holes. Atrophic holes often present in the peripheral (temporal or superior) retina. There appears to be no sex predilection.

General Pathology

Atrophic retinal holes are full thickness retina breaks often existing in the peripheral retina. They are the result of atrophic changes within the sensory retina that are not induced by vitreous adhesions. Often, these lesions are found in association with lattice degeneration. The incidence of this associated has been reported as high as 43%.


Retinal holes are the result of chronic atrophy of the sensory retina. These lesions often take a round or oval shape. It has been postulated that the pathogenesis of this lesion stems from an atrophic pigmented chorioretinapathy that is associated with retinal vessel sclerosis and a disturbance of the overlying vitreous. As the blood supply to the retina is shut down, the retinal tissue subsequently dies in conjunction with degeneration of the surrounding vitreous. This pathology precludes traction of the vitreous to the underlying sensory retina.

Primary prevention

There are no preventative measures to the development of atrophic retinal holes.


This is a clinical diagnosis based on history and clinical exam, including slit lamp and dilated fundus examination.


Patients with atrophic retinal holes generally present for routine ocular examinations. This type of lesion is generally an incidental finding. Some patients may present with a complaint of photopsias (flashing lights) or other visual disturbance if associated with a symptomatic retinal detachment.

Physical examination

Slit lamp examination with special attention to the peripheral fundus is important in the evaluation of this disorder. An indirect ophthalmologic examination with scleral depression may be required to indentify retinal holes adjacent to the ora serrata.
Careful attention should be used when examining myopic patients and those patients with lattice degeneration due to the increased incidence in these populations.


Retinal holes are full thickness breaks in the sensory retina. As mentioned prior, they take a round or oval shape. Subretinal fluid may accompany these lesions. Subretinal fluid, if present, may involve up to 360 degrees of the lesion's edge and spread slowly under the surrounding retina resulting in either a symptomatic or asymptomatic retinal detachment.


Atrophic holes are asymptomatic in a majority of patients. If associated with a retinal detachment patients may experience visual symptoms such as photopsias, floaters, or loss of visual field.

Clinical diagnosis

The diagnosis of an atrophic retinal hole is a clinical one. There are no studies currently used to diagnose or classify this type of retinal pathology. To differentiate this lesion from an operculated retinal hole, a clinician needs to look for an isolated detachment of the sensory retina adherent to the overlying vitreous without traction to the edges of the retinal hole. The absence of vitreoretinal traction and a free retinal flap will also assist in differentiating this lesion from a horseshoe retinal tear.

Diagnostic procedures

Atrophic retinal holes are diagnosed during routine clinical examination. Depending on how far into the peripheral retina the lesions are located a clinician has the option of using either direct or indirect ophthalmoscopy.
Direct ophthalmolscopy utilizes a slit lamp for the examination and the choice of either a non contact 78 or 90 diopter lens (various other similar lenses are available) versus a Goldmann triple mirror contact lens. The 78 and 90 diopter lens provides an image of the retina which is best for viewing the posterior pole and mid periphery of the fundus. A skilled physician can often times manipulate the slit lamp and provide patient direction which allows for a good view of the peripheral fundus. The Goldmann triple mirror lens is designed specifically to allow for a broader view of the fundus to include the posterior pole and extend out to the ora serrata and ciliary body. Other wide angle contact lenses designed may also be used.

Laboratory test

No laboratory tests are indicated in cases of atrophic retinal holes.

Differential diagnosis

The clinical appearance of atrophic retinal holes is very characteristic. Despite this there are several possible diagnoses that should be considered which include horseshoe retinal tear, lattice degeneration, operculated retinal hole, snailtrack degeneration, and retinoschesis.


General treatment

There is no mandatory therapy for this condition. According to the Preferred Practice Patterns set forth by the American Academy of Ophthalmology, for atrophic retina holes treatment is rarely recommended. Some studies suggest that prophylactic laserpexy may be considered for eyes with retinal holes with accompanying subretinal fluid when a retinal detachment already exists in the patient’s fellow eye.

Medical therapy

There is currently no medical therapy required for this condition.

Medical follow up

See above.


Surgical procedures (laserpexy) are rarely recommended for this condition. See above


The prognosis for atrophic retinal holes is good. There is a low risk of retinal detachments in patient with round holes, and the incidence of atrophic holes in the general population is low as well.

Additional Resources


  1. Kanski, Jack. Clinical Ophthalmology 5th edition. Butterworth-Heinemann; 2003:359-371
  2. Preferred Practice Patterns: Posterior Vitreous Detachment, Retinal Breaks, and Lattice Degeneration. AAO 2008
  3. Byer N. Subclinical Retinal Detachment Resulting from Asymptomatic Retinal Breaks. Ophthalmology 2001; 108:1499-1504
  4. Gonzales C,Gupta A, Schwartz S,et al.The fellow eye of patients with phakic rhegmatogenous retinal detachment from atrophic holes of lattice degeneration without posterior vitreous detachment. Br J Ophthalmol 2004 88: 1400-1402
  5. Michaelson I. Role of a Distinctive Choroido-retinal Lesion in the Pathogenesis of Retinal Hole: A Clinical and Pathological Report. Br J Ophthalmol 1956 40: 527-535
  6. Sigelman J. Vitreous Base Classification of Retinal Tears: Clinical Application. Surv Ophthalmol 25:59-74, 1980