Mr Nicholas Glover  - Consultant Cataract & Vitreoretinal Surgeon

Floaters

Posterior vitreous detachment (PVD) cause symptoms such as floatersflashes of light, or a cobweb effect across your vision. Some people get all three symptoms and others may only get one or two. 

PVD is very common and most of us will develop it at some point in our lives. Although it can cause some frustrating symptoms, it does not cause pain or harm the eye

The eye is filled with a clear jelly-like substance called the vitreous gel. When the vitreous jelly comes away from the retina this is called a vitreous detachment.

A PVD is a natural change that occurs in the eye. Over 75 per cent of the population over the age of 65 develop a PVD, and it is not uncommon for it to develop in someone's 40s or 50s. 

Importantly, these symptoms can be an indication of a more serious problem, such as a retinal tear, which needs urgent attention.You will not be able to tell the difference between floaters and flashes caused by PVD or retinal detachment. 

If you suddenly experience any of the following symptoms, make sure you have your eyes examined as soon as possible - preferably on the same day or within 24 hours:

    • A sudden appearance of floaters or an increase in their size and number

    • Flashes of light and/or a change/increase in the flashing lights you experience

    • Blurring of vision

    • A dark 'curtain'  across your vision


If you've had your eyes checked and a PVD has been diagnosed then the symptoms will change over time. Even though the floaters and flashes of light can be frustrating in the short-term they usually settle down and do not cause permanent sight loss.

You may find the symptoms of your PVD only last for a few weeks, but more commonly they last around six months, with the floaters and flashes of light gradually calming down over this period.

For some people the floaters caused by the PVD can last for up to a year, or longer, although this is more unusual. 

Flashing: The movement of the vitreous creates a tug on the retina. The retina reacts by sending a small electrical charge to your brain. You see this as short, small, flashes of light. In the long-term, you are unlikely to see these flashes because, once the vitreous has fully come away it no longer pulls on the retina. 

Floaters: You may see them as dots, circles, lines, clouds, or cobwebs. You may find floaters are more obvious in bright light or on a sunny day.A floater is created when the vitreous becomes more watery and clumps of cells float in the vitreous. Many people have floaters even if they do not have PVD or an eye condition. Floaters are very common and your brain usually learns to ignore them over time.

Treatment

At the moment there is no medical treatment for PVD. 

Because floaters, in most cases, clear up on their own, most people do not require treatment.

There is a surgical procedure called "vitrectomy" which removes the vitreous from the eye  reducing or eliminating the floaters. It is usually reserved for severe floaters which reduce vision.