Posterior Vitreous Detachment

Patient Experience

  • Reference Number: HEY-962/2021
  • Departments: Ophthalmology Department
  • Last Updated: 16 September 2021


This leaflet has been produced to give you general information about your condition, most of your questions should be answered by this leaflet.  It is not intended to replace the discussion between you and the healthcare team, but may act as a starting point for discussion.  If after reading it you have any concerns or require further explanation, please discuss this with a member of the healthcare team.

What is a posterior vitreous detachment?

The vitreous is a gel like substance that fills the eye. From birth this gel is firmly attached to the retina, the film at the back of the eye, but with age the vitreous thins and may separate from the retina. This is called a posterior vitreous detachment (PVD).

PVDs are very common particularly as people get older but can also occur in the following cases:

  • At a younger age in people who are myopic (short sighted)
  • Diabetic
  • Have had previous eye surgery
  • Have a history of retinal detachments in the family

Why do I get vitreous floaters?

As the vitreous separates from the retina, parts of it can clump together and these clumps form a shadow on the retina which people see as floaters. They are often more noticeable when looking against something white, or against a bright light, as the shadow effect is more obvious.

Why do I get flashing lights?

The strands of vitreous gel that are attached to the retina sometimes gently tug on the retina which can stimulate the nerve fibres in the retina and cause flashing lights to appear.

Can there be any complications or risks?

The main risk is that as the vitreous pulls away from the retina, a small hole can form in the retina. This retinal hole, if left untreated, can in some cases lead to a detached retina, which may cause loss of vision in the affected eye. However in 95 out of 100 patients who have a PVD the vitreous separates harmlessly from the retina.

The floaters may take some time to settle down, usually a few months. In some situations, they may persist but do not usually cause any problems.

What happens now?

The doctor who has seen you will have checked your retina to ensure that there are no signs of a retinal hole or retinal detachment.

If you do have a problem with your retina such as a retinal hole or a detached retina you will need laser treatment or surgery and this will be discussed with you separately. If the doctor is happy that there are no problems with your retina, then you will be discharged from the Eye Clinic. The floaters and/or flashes that you are experiencing will become less obvious with time although they may not disappear completely.

What to look out for

Most floaters and flashes are harmless, but if after discharge from the Eye Clinic you notice any of the following, this could indicate a change in your condition and you should see your doctor urgently to get re-referred to the Eye Clinic.

These changes include:

  • A sudden increase in the number of floaters and flashes in your vision
  • A loss of a portion of your field of vision
  • A veil or curtain developing that obstructs part or all of your vision
  • Sudden decrease in your vision
Should you require further advice on the issues contained in this leaflet, please do not hesitate to contact the Ophthalmology Department (01482) 816658 or (01482) 608788 (08:30am – 17:00pm Monday – Friday) or Out-of-Hours (01482) 604346 (Please listen to full voice message on how to access emergency out of hours service).
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