Vitreous detachment or posterior vitreous detachment (PVD) describes the shrinking and separation of the vitreous, the gel-like material that fills the eye, from the retina. The condition commonly occurs in people over the age of 50 and in most cases it does not harm vision or require treatment.
In a normal eye, the attachment between the vitreous and the retina is made up of thin collagen fibers. These fibers slowly shrink as we age, often creating traction on the retina. A vitreous detachment occurs when the fibres begin to separate from the retinal surface, resulting in further contraction of the vitreous fluid.
Vitreous detachments often occur without symptoms and thus go undetected. However, in some people, floaters and flashes of light make the process noticeable.
Typically, vitreous detachments do not cause any problems. However, if the vitreous is strongly adhered to the retina, the gel can pull hard as it separates, that it tears the retina. Fluid can then seep under the retina and lead to a retinal detachment, a genuine eye emergency. Because flashes of light and floaters are the main symptoms of both vitreous and retinal detachments, it is important to tell your optometrist about these symptoms immediately. A sudden change in these symptoms could indicate a retinal tear or detachment.
If the vitreous detachment has occurred uneventfully without associated retinal tears or detachments, intervention is not advised. The vitreous will continue to age and change in composition, and the effects of its detachment from the retina will usually become less noticeable over time.
If a retinal tear has occurred, surgery is indicated, especially if the tear has progressed to a retinal detachment.