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What is Vitreous Detachment?

By Emma Lloyd
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Vitreous detachment is an eye condition which occurs when the vitreous humor of the eye becomes detached from the retina. This condition causes visual disturbances such as light flashes and vitreous floaters. While vitreous detachment does not normally cause long-term vision problems, there is a small chance of retinal detachment occurring, which may lead to loss of vision. This eye condition is relatively common, particularly in older people. Around 75% of those over 65 experience symptoms of detachment. People who experience detachment in one eye are at greater risk of having the condition develop in the other eye.

The eye is filled with a substance called vitreous gel, or vitreous humor. The gel is 99% water, with proteins and collagen making up the remaining 1%. This substance helps the eye retain its shape. With increasing age, the viscous gel becomes increasingly liquid, which can lead to shrinkage of the gel. As a result, the outer part of the gel mass may begin to detach from the retina of the eye.

Detachment of the vitreous mass leads to minor visual disturbances. Light flashes are very common in this eye condition; these occur because the retina is stimulated by the pull of the vitreous gel as it detaches. Vitreous floaters occur as a result of the altered viscosity of the gel, leading to the formation of small specks and strings of matter which cast shadows on the retina.

Vitreous detachment is not in itself harmful, and does not cause vision loss. When the vitreous humor first detaches, it is common to experience a sudden surge in light flashes and vitreous floaters. The frequency of symptoms normally decreases within around six months, but most people still experience low levels of floaters and light flashes. In a small number of cases, the detachment of the vitreous humor may cause the retina to tear. If not treated, this condition may lead to retina detachment, which can cause temporary or permanent vision loss.

Treatment for vitreous detachment is usually not necessary. Floaters and light flashes may be irritating in some situations, but they are not in themselves harmful. People who have this eye condition should, however, be monitored for signs of retinal tears or retinal detachment. Symptoms to watch out for include a sudden and marked increase in light flashes or floaters, or darkening of vision in the affected eye. These signs may indicate a retinal tear or detachment, and treatment should be obtained promptly.

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Discussion Comments
By anon299012 — On Oct 23, 2012

I'm only 43 and this just happened to my right eye three weeks ago. The floater isn't the problem but the film that swipes back and forth over the center of my pupil interferes with my vision. I can't believe in this day and age of laser surgery that we're told to just accept it. Seriously?

By anon290529 — On Sep 10, 2012

I see large sheets that blur my vision so badly that i cannot drive. The medical community needs to rise from the dark ages, and address this. Some people's quality of life is depending on it!

By anon92860 — On Jun 30, 2010

I have a PVD and am experiencing blurred vision and discomfort. However, my "floaters" are more like "sheets of water" sweeping across my eye as it moves. As of two weeks ago did not have retinal detachment. Why am I experiencing discomfort?

By anon83333 — On May 10, 2010

This actually can cause vision problems. My viscous detachment was at the optic nerve and left me with blurred vision in the center of my eye. The excess or torn portion of the viscous layer not only left a significant shadow, but light entering my eye reflects off this material like a prism and causes extreme problems under almost all light conditions.

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