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Eye Health Library / Eye Exam & Diagnoses
The vitreous is a semi-solid to liquid material that occupies up to 75 per cent of the eye’s volume. It is contained within a thin sac that is tightly adhered to the retina, or the inner layer of the eye. One role of the vitreous is to keep the eyeball inflated much like air in a soccer ball. As we age, this shrinks and pulls away from the retina, causing the vitreous to detach.
Over time, the fibres of the vitreous become more mobile and clump together, forming floaters. The floaters cast a shadow on the retina, which may appear to the individual as a dust particle or a tiny insect floating in your vision. The vitreous sac may then pull away from the retina resulting in the sudden onset of flashing lights accompanying the floaters. These symptoms of vitreous detachment are similar to retinal detachment. However, vitreous detachment does not have the same potential of vision damage that retinal detachment does. Vitreous detachment may occur spontaneously or after eye surgery, physical trauma to the head or eye, or due to an inflammatory process.
If the vitreous sac pulls away from the retina with excessive force, a retinal hole or tear may result. This has the potential to progress to a retinal detachment, which can result in significant vision loss. Seeing your doctor of optometry for a routine eye examination can help detect a vitreous detachment early, preventing small asymptomatic retinal holes, tears and detachments from progressing before you are even aware of them.
Even though the appearance of flashes and floaters from a vitreous detachment can be more of a nuisance than anything, you should have your eyes examined by a doctor of optometry right away if you notice any sudden changes in vision, such as new floaters, flashes or light. You will need to have your pupils dilated to ensure the health of the retina. A cautious approach can go a long way towards preserving vision.