POSTERIOR VITREOUS DETACHMENT (FLOATERS & FLASHES)
Flashes and floaters
It is common as we age to experience symptoms known as flashes and floaters (flashing lights and or black spots in the vision), which are due to a posterior vitreous detachment, and can sometimes lead to a more serious retinal detachment.
What is the vitreous?
The inside of the eye is filled with a clear gel, called the vitreous.
The vitreous is encased in a fibrous sac, and the posterior face of this is attached to the retina, the nerve tissue which lines the inside of the eye.
As we age, the vitreous gel liquefies, the proteins in it clump together, and the whole thing shrinks.
What is a posterior vitreous detachment?
As the vitreous body shrinks, the posterior vitreous face pulls away from the lining of the eye (the retina) . We call this a posterior vitreous detachment. This is a very common event. Sometimes this happens gently, and causes no symptoms at all.
What are floaters?
The proteins that clump together can be seen floating around in the liquid gel, and we see these as black or clear floaters.
When the vitreous face pulls free, the connective tissue that was attached around the optic nerve and along the blood vessels is now floating in front of the retina and may appear as round or oval shapes or cobweb-like strands in the vision.
Occasionally, when the vitreous face pulls loose, it can pull a hole in a blood vessel, causing blood cells to leak out, which we see as a shower of black spots.
What are flashing lights?
Sometimes the vitreous pulls on the retina, causing flashing lights, which we see like lightning out of the corner of the eye.
What is a retinal detachment?
Rarely, when the vitreous face pulls loose, it can tear a hole in the retina, allowing fluid to leak in and under the retina, lifting it off and causing a retinal detachment. This appears as a curtain or a veil coming down over the vision, or as loss of vision.
If you develop flashing lights, we need to check the retina to see if you have a retinal tear. If we pick this up early, it can be sealed off with laser.
If you wait until the retina detaches, it requires a major operation to fix it, and there is a risk of permanent loss of vision in that eye.
So if you experience flashes or floaters, please see your eye care professional so we can check your eyes to make sure they are ok, and to treat them if need be.