Description of vitreous detachment

Our eye is similar to a hollow tennis ball, except that most of the inside of our eye is filled with thick elastic jelly called the "vitreous jelly". This jelly is very thick and elastic when we are a born, but progressively liquefies during the course of our life. At a certain point in our lives, usually sometime in our 50's, that jelly becomes liquefied enough that the entire meshwork of jelly collapses upon itself.


When this occurs, we will often see floaters, little spots or strands of semi-translucent, dark shapes that float around in our vision. Because the meshwork of jelly is attached to certain points in our retina, it may tug on the retina in various areas during this process and cause us to see "flashing lights".

Flashing light is a phosphene or a mechanical stimulation of the retina caused by the jelly pulling on it that gives us the illusion of seeing a light. It is the same process that occurs if we close our eye and press on the side of our eye with our finger and see a light image. The final step of vitreous detachment often occurs when we make a sudden movement or undergo a bouncing up and down or jostling of our body and this force is transmitted to our eye. Even though this may be the final event that causes the vitreous jelly to detach, it is probably something that would occur sooner or later in almost anybody anyway.


What to do about vitreous detachment

When a person has symptoms of vitreous detachment, it is very important that they see their eye doctor in order to have the retina examined. Occasionally a vitreous detachment can tear a piece of the retina. This retinal tear can proceed and progress to become a retinal detachment and even cause complete loss of vision. If the retinal tear is identified, it can be sealed with a laser or treated by other means. If it has already progressed to a detachment, this can be a vision saving process. The appearance of new flashes or floaters is a good reason to come have your eyes examined.


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