The vitreous is a gel-like substance that composes most of the volume of the eye. As a result of the aging process, the consistency of the vitreous changes and becomes thinner. This can alter the shape of the vitreous, causing it to pull away from the retina. The tiny fibers of the vitreous that attach it to the retina break, resulting in a vitreous detachment. Vitreous detachment is common in those over the age of 50. It is also more frequently found in those who are nearsighted.
The main symptom of a vitreous detachment is experiencing flashes and floaters. Floaters are seen when the fibers within the vitreous move into the field of vision. They typically appear as small specks, strands, webs or dots as the fibers cast shadows on the retina. Flashes occur as a result of pressure on the retina. They cause patients to see either flashing lights or lightning streaks. While both flashes and floaters can occur in healthy eyes, it is important to seek medical attention if they become more frequent as they may indicate a vitreous detachment.
Diagnosis of Vitreous Detachment
A vitreous detachment is diagnosed by a physical examination of the eyes. This will include the use of eye drops to dilate the pupils, allowing the doctor to inspect the structures within the eyes. A vitreous detachment does not cause loss of vision, but it can lead to a retinal detachment or the formation of a macular hole. These conditions can both cause permanent vision loss.
Treatment of Vitreous Detachment
A vitreous detachment usually does not require any treatment aside from regular monitoring. Patients bothered by the disturbances in their vision or those experiencing significant visual interference may require more advanced treatment. This typically involves a procedure known as a pars plana vitrectomy, in which the natural vitreous is removed and replaced with fluid. In the case of a retinal detachment, emergency treatment is necessary to prevent serious complications.