A retrospective study was performed to determine whether the prophylactic treatment of areas of lattice degeneration, holes, or breaks reduced the risk of subsequent new breaks or detachment in the fellow undetached phakic eyes of patients with a phakic lattice retinal detachment (RD). Three hundred eighty-eight consecutive patients who presented to the University of Iowa between 1959 and 1984 were followed for a mean of 7.9 +/- 5.8 years after the detachment in the first eye. Fellow eyes which received no prophylactic treatment had a 2.5 times greater risk of a new break or RD over 7 years than eyes receiving full prophylactic treatment (19.4 versus 7.5%; P = 0.0002). Fellow eyes receiving no treatment also had a greater risk of a new RD over 7 years than eyes receiving full treatment (5.1 versus 1.8%; P = 0.0125). These results do not allow us to make recommendations concerning which fellow eyes, if any, should be prophylactically treated. On the one hand, prophylactic treatment did significantly reduce the risk of new breaks and detachments. On the other hand, however, prophylactic treatment reduced the risk of new RD alone in the fellow eye only from 5.1 to 1.8% over 7 years. In addition, prophylactic treatment did not reduce the risk of detachment in the higher risk eyes with high myopia or extensive lattice.