Flashes and Floaters

What are floaters and what is a Posterior Vitreous detachment (PVD)?

Floaters describe the symptom of seeing a shadow moving (or floating) across the vision. Sometimes they are described as a dirty cobweb, flies, a ‘hair’ in the vision or a ‘dirty windscreen’.

Floaters are seen when the fibres that make up the "jelly" (vitreous) at the back of the eye start to clump together. When you are a child, the jelly is perfectly clear, allowing you to see through it without any trouble. As you get older these fibres start to clump together, causing floaters.

Normally, the vitreous (ie the jelly in the eye) adheres to certain parts of the retina. The retina is the nerve tissue found at the back (or posterior) part of the eye. It is the part that senses light. 

A posterior vitreous detachment (PVD) is when the vitreous pulls away from the retina. It is most commonly associated with floaters in the vision and flashing lights.

Importantly, when the vitreous pulls on the retina, you may notice flashing lights. These are usually only for a split second, and they often occur in the outside part of your vision in the affected eye. Flashes are most often noticed in the evening and can be quite disconcerting and annoying. Not everybody experiences them. 

Retinal tears can occur if the vitreous pulls too hard on the retina as it separates from it. Retinal detachment is an uncommon complication of this process. 

Why is it important for a PVD to to be checked?

Unfortunately, in approximately 10% of people with an acute posterior vitreous detachment, there will be a retinal tear. As retinal tears can lead onto the sight threatening complication of a retinal detachment, it needs to be treated urgently. Retinal laser is the best treatment for a retinal tear.

Symptoms that should not be ignored

You must contact us urgently if you notice: 

These floaters really annoy me! What can be done about them?

Unfortunately, the floaters never truly go away – they are always within your eye.  Usually, the brain starts to ignore the floaters over time and most people get used to them, so they cease being a problem.  However, this takes several months, so patience is important. 

Generally, surgery is not recommended to remove the floaters as there is a significant risk of complications from the surgery (including retinal detachment, infection and cataract) and these can lead to permanent loss of vision. This will never happen if you just have a posterior vitreous detachment (without any retinal tear). Also, remember, with time your symptoms should lessen anyway.

Dr Joshua Yuen

Dr Joshua is an experienced consultant ophthalmic surgeon, who specialises in retinal diseases and cataract surgery... read more

Dr Brad Johnson

Dr Johnson is an experienced consultant ophthalmic surgeon, who specialises in retinal diseases and cataract surgery... read more