What Is Posterior Vitreous Detachment (PVD)?

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Posterior vitreous detachment (PVD) is a normal part of the aging process for our eyes, affecting most people by the age of 70. PVD occurs when the vitreous gel that fills the eye separates from the retina—the light-sensing nerve layer at the back of the eye—and is associated with seeing flashes of light or "floaters" in your peripheral vision.

Normal vs. Posterior Vitreous Detachment

Jessica Olah / Verywell

Symptoms of PVD

Posterior vitreous detachment (PVD)—while it can be a sign of a serious condition—in most cases isn't cause for concern and won't lead to vision loss.

So how do you know if you have PVD? It really comes down to noticing the symptoms of the condition:

  • Flashes
  • Floaters

Flashes

If you see flashes of light in the corners of your eye (in your peripheral vision), that could be a sign of PVD. These flashes are usually most noticeable in dark surroundings, so you're less likely to see them outside on a sunny day than you are indoors in the evenings.

Floaters

Eye floaters are the other main symptom of PVD. They're those blurry shapes and shadows that move across your field of vision as you move your eyes. Typically floaters are seen in the corners of your eyes, but they can also settle right in the center of your vision, which makes them more obvious and more annoying to deal with.

Floaters don't come in any specific shape, and may look like cobwebs, dust, or a swarm of insects. If the floaters appear in the shape of a circle or oval, this is called a Weiss ring.

When to See a Doctor

Noticing a few floaters from time-to-time isn't something to worry about. But if you start seeing a sudden increase in floaters accompanied by flashes in your peripheral vision, it may be a sign of PVD—or potentially something more serious—so it's important to see your doctor.

If you have other eye-related conditions, like vitreous hemorrhage, retinal detachmentepiretinal membrane, or a macular hole, the flashes and floaters may be accompanied by blurred or distorted vision.

Causes of PVD

Approximately 80% of the volume of our eyes is made up of a gel-like substance called vitreous, which helps fills the interior of the eye and helps it to retain its round shape. Vitreous is held in place by tiny collagen fibers on the base of the front of the eye. These fibers also secure the vitreous to the optic nerve and the retina in back of the eye.

Unfortunately, like many other parts of the body, these collagen fibers wear down and become less effective over time. Meanwhile, the vitreous gradually turns from a gel into a liquid, which causes it to shrink and move forward in the eye. The eye cavity itself doesn't get any smaller, so when this happens, the vitreous separates itself from the retina in the process, only remaining attached at the base.

This process—which results in PVD—takes between one and three months to complete, and is the period when the flashes and floaters are most noticeable. About 85% of people with PVD never develop additional complications or conditions. But in other cases, the separation of the vitreous from the retina can be more serious and result in the tearing of the retina or a retinal blood vessel, or a vitreous hemorrhage. These tears could then lead to retinal detachment or epiretinal membrane, which could result in vision loss.

Symptoms of retinal detachment.

Ellen Lindner/Verywell

There are also a number of risk factors that can increase your chance of getting PVD, including:

  • Older age
  • Nearsightedness
  • Past eye trauma
  • Prior cataract surgery
  • Vitreous detachment in one eye

Diagnosis of PVD

Ophthalmologists diagnose PVD as part of a dilated eye exam—the same type you might get during your regular eye check-ups. It involves getting eye drops that widen your pupil, which helps the doctor check for PVD and other potential issues. For the most part, the exam is painless—although the dilation eye drops may sting a little, and you may be slightly uncomfortable if the doctor presses on your eyelid while checking for retinal tears.

In some cases, though, additional testing might be required to get an accurate diagnosis—including in situations when the vitreous gel is exceptionally clear. In those situations, additional non-invasive procedures like optical coherence tomography (OCT) or ocular ultrasound are done to get a better look at the eye. OCT provides a cross-sectional image of the retina, and an ocular ultrasound is a scan that assesses the structural integrity and pathology of the eye.

Treatment for PVD

The vast majority of cases of PVD do not require any type of treatment, and the flashes and floaters typically go away after around three months. If that doesn't happen, and the floaters make it difficult for you to see clearly, your doctor may perform a surgery called a vitrectomy in order to remove them.

Treatment is also required if PVD results in a retinal tear or detachment. The treatment for both retinal tears and detachments is an outpatient procedure that uses lasers or extreme cold to seal the tear. Those with retinal detachments then need surgery to reattach the retina to the back wall of the eye. When retinal tears or detachments are caught early enough, the treatments are usually around 90% successful.

Coping with PVD

Most of the time, the floaters and flashes associated with PVD are relatively mild and only last for one to three months. If that's not the case, it's best to see your doctor about it, because you may require surgery. But other than that, there aren't any remedies or ways to cope with floaters. And no, rubbing your eyes won't help get rid of them either, because floaters are located on the inside of your eye. Floaters are simply a natural part of the aging process and may themselves fade over time.

A Word from Verywell

It can be jarring to see what looks like a tiny lightning storm happening in the corner of your eye, or notice a weirdly shaped blob float across your line of vision, but it's usually not cause for alarm. Flashes and floaters happen to everyone on occasion. But if they start occurring more regularly or start to get in the way of your vision, then it's definitely time to talk to the doctor.

Even if something more serious is going on, chances are good that it can be treated, especially if you catch it early. You never want to mess around with your vision, so you're better off bringing flashes and floaters up with your doctor and finding out they're nothing than letting it go and ending up with some type of vision loss.

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  1. American Society of Retina Specialists. Posterior vitreous detachment. Updated 2016.

  2. Cleveland Clinic. Is posterior vitreous detachment a serious eye problem? Updated December 18, 2018.

  3. Cleveland Clinic. Is posterior vitreous detachment a serious eye problem? Updated December 18, 2018.

  4. National Eye Institute. Vitreous detachment. Updated September 8, 2020.

  5. Cleveland Clinic. Eye floaters & flashes. Updated August 20, 2020.