Vitreous Detachment & Floaters

A posterior vitreous detachment occurs when the vitreous gel that occupies the inside of the eye separates from the retina. In most cases, the vitreous separates from the retina cleanly without causing any harm. Sometimes, as the vitreous gel separates from the retina, it pulls on the retina causing a tear, and in some instances a retinal detachment.
Vitreous Detachments and Floaters Image


Floaters and flashes are typical symptoms that occur during the evolution of a posterior vitreous detachment. Floaters occur when tiny amounts of the vitreous gel clump together. These clumps can interfere with vision. They can appear as various shapes and sizes, taking the form of specks, strings, or cobwebs. Flashes occur when the vitreous gel pulls on the retina and appear as lightning streaks or flashing lights in the peripheral vision.


The normal aging process is the most common cause of a posterior vitreous detachment. Other causes are nearsightedness, history of inflammatory eye disorders, or history of intraocular surgery. Migraine headaches may cause flashes, known as a migraine aura, but can be differentiated from a vitreous detachment during a thorough eye examination.


When a person suddenly experiences floaters and/or flashes, a prompt retinal exam is essential in order to rule out a retinal tear or retinal detachment. Both conditions require surgical intervention. If no tear or detachment is present, treatment is not required. Typically, floaters are harmless and with time become less noticeable.