Patient information: Posterior vitreous detachment

What is the vitreous?  The vitreous is a clear gel that fills the cavity of the eye. It is 99% water and is not important for vision.  

What is a posterior vitreous detachment?  As part of the normal aging process the vitreous may pull away from the back of the eye (retina), and collapse into itself.  This is more likely in people who are shortsighted (myopic).

Posterior vitreous detachment
What are the symptoms of posterior vitreous detachment? Many people do not know they have had a posterior vitreous detachment as it does not damage the vision.  Others become aware of floaters - small spots or shapes that float in their vision.  Floaters do not cause any harm to the eye and they tend to become less noticable with time. If the floaters are persistent and very troublesome it is possible to remove them with surgery, but this is seldom required.

Can posterior vitreous detachment damage my eyes?  No, however, posterior vitreous detachment is occasionally associated with retinal detachment.  Retinal detachment occurs when the vitreous is abnormally adherent to the retina (the light-reactive lining in the back of the eye).  Hence when the vitreous detaches it pulls a tear in the retina and this causes the retina to lift of the inside of the eye.  Retinal detachment is a serious condition that requires urgent medical attention.  The symptoms of retinal detachment are flashing lights in the affected eye, bits missing from the vision (blind spots), a curtain coming over the vision, or blurred vision.  If these symptoms occur you should see an eye doctor (ophthalmologist) immediately.

What should I do if I have a posterior vitreous detachment? If you are told you have posterior vitreous detachment, and this has recently occured in association with a sudden onset of floaters or flashing lights, then you should ask your optician or GP to refer you immediately to an eye doctor.   In some people a posterior vitreous detachment occurs without symptoms and is picked up during a routine optician eye examination.  In this case it is important that the optician puts in eyedrops to dilate the pupil and carefully examines the retina. If the retina is normal you need not see an eye doctor, but you should return to see your optician once a year. If you develop the symptoms of retinal detachment (see section above) then you should visit a hospital emergency service immediately.  If there are abnormal findings your optician will refer you to an eye doctor.

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