Retinal Tears, Vitreous Detachment and Floaters
The retina is a tissue that lines the almost the entire inside of the eye. It is a very specialized tissue that collects light information and transmits it to the brain providing us with vision. The macula is a small portion of the retina at the back of the eye that is responsible for central vision and gives us our fine detailed vision and color perception. The posterior segment of the eye (inside of the eye, behind the lens) is filled with a gelatinous substance called vitreous. When we are young, the vitreous is a consistent gel and is adherent to the retina. Over time as we age, parts of the vitreous gel become liquefied and other parts clump together (perceived as floaters). Also as a part of normal aging, the vitreous will release itself from the retina (posterior vitreous detachment - PVD). Although this is a normal age related event, it may occur early in people who are highly nearsighted, have had inflammation in the eye, injury, or surgery inside the eye – such as cataract surgery.
When a posterior vitreous detachment occurs, there may be a significant and sudden increase in floaters. One may also notice flashes of light typically arc shaped in the side vision area, most noticeable in dim lighting conditions. This is a symptom of traction on the retina as the vitreous releases itself. Over time the flashes generally subside, and the floaters become less noticeable.
It is important to have a detailed eye exam when symptoms of PVD occur because a retinal tear can develop about 10% of the time and retinal tear can lead to retinal detachment. A detailed examination of the retina by a retinal specialist will detect whether a retinal tear is present. If a retinal tear is detected it can be sealed off with laser treatment to prevent progression to retinal detachment.