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Learning About Vitreous Detachment

Cross-section of healthy eye, showing the lens, vitreous gel, and retina.

What is vitreous detachment?

Vitreous detachment occurs when the vitreous gel in the eye pulls away (detaches) from the retina at the back of the eye.

Vitreous gel is a thick fluid behind the lens of the eye. The gel helps the eye keep its shape. The gel is clear, so light passes through it to the retina. The retina is the nerve layer at the back of the eye that sends images to your brain.

The gel has fibre-like tissue that attaches to the retina. As you age, the vitreous gel can shrink and pull away from the retina. The fibres attached to the retina break. This is called vitreous detachment, or posterior vitreous detachment. It's common in older people. Being nearsighted also increases the chance of having it.

What are the symptoms?

The vitreous gel may pull away from the retina without causing symptoms. But the detachment can cause you to see "floaters" in your field of vision. Floaters are the tissues that break when the gel pulls away from the retina. They may look like tiny specks or threads that float across your vision.

Vitreous detachment also can cause flashes of light in your side (peripheral) vision.

What can you expect when you have detachment?

Vitreous detachment usually doesn't need treatment.

It's common to have some floaters. They usually don't affect your vision, although they can be annoying at times. But a sudden increase in floaters and flashes can be a sign of a serious problem that needs to be checked out by your eye doctor.

Sometimes the vitreous pulls away so strongly from the retina that it leaves a hole in the retina or makes the retina detach from the back of the eye. Either of these problems can lead to vision loss if not treated quickly.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have vision changes.
  • You see new flashes of light.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if:

  • You see new or worse floaters.
  • You do not get better as expected.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.