Vitreous Floaters and Posterior Vitreous Detachment
What are floaters?
The posterior three-fourths of the human eye is filled with a watery to jelly-like substance called the vitreous. There are protein particles which float in the vitreous substance. When these particles catch the light on a bright day or in a bright room, they may cast a shadow on your retina and allow you to perceive floating “spots” or “pieces” of string. They are most visible when viewed on a background of a white wall or a clear blue sky.
Causes of Vitreous Floaters
As we age, the vitreous substance tends to become thicker and may also shrink. This thickening can lead to clumping of the vitreous gel and therefore lead to the perception of floaters.
Treatment for Vitreous Floaters
Vitreous floaters are generally not treated, but instead are monitored by your eye doctor for any possible future complications.
Posterior Vitreous Detachment
Sometimes the vitreal gel can detach and form a posterior vitreous detachment. A vitreal detachment alone is not a serious condition; however, if the vitreous continues to pull on its adjacent retina, a more serious retinal detachment may ensue.
Seeing Flashes of Light
Some patients also experience the sensation of flashing lights that are not caused by actual lightening or flashing lights. There are two common reasons for this symptom. The more common and less serious cause is an ocular migraine. These usually appear as jagged lines around your side vision. They typically last 10-20 minutes and may or may not be followed by a classic migraine headache.
The more serious cause of the perception of flashing lights is a retinal detachment. This can happen spontaneously, due to trauma of the head, or because of the vitreous pulling on the retina. It is important to catch these as early as possible since there are surgical treatment options which can halt the progression of a retinal detachment.
Why is it important to have a dilated exam to evaluate the vitreous?
The appearance of floaters and flashes increase as we age. It is important to visit your eye doctor if you experience a sudden onset of new flashing lights or floaters. In this situation your eye doctor should dilate your pupils by putting a few drops in your eyes. The dilation allows the eye doctor to get a comprehensive view of the retina and vitreous to make sure everything is healthy.