Floaters and Vitreous Detachment

Floaters are shapes that people can see drifting across their vision. They are due to debris floating in the jelly inside the eye.  These cast a shadow onto the retine, which we perceive as floaters.  Shortsighted (myopic) people tend to suffer from them more and they increase as we get older.  The vast majority of floaters are harmless and represent the normal ageing of the eye.

In posterior vitreous detachment (PVD), the vitreous gel can loose its support framework causing it to collapse and come away from the retina. This usually causes symptoms of flashes and increased floaters (often described as a cobweb). The flashes usually subside over 4 to 12 weeks.  Rarely (1 in 10,000), a PVD can lead to a bleed and/or a tear in the retina.  This is usually perceived by the patient as a shower of floaters as well as flashes of light.  This requires urgent attention by an eye doctor.

 

Treatment

In the vast majority of people, floaters do not cause any problem and we do not recommend any form of treatment for them.

Some people have very severe floaters which may interfere with driving, or their activites of daily living. In these cases, it is possible to carry out a vitrectomy to remove the vitreous gel, which will remove the troublesome floaters.  The risks for such surgery include the development of a cataract (usually within the first two years of surgery), a 4% risk of retinal detachment, and a 1 in 800 risk of severe bleed or infection which can lead to blindness.

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