Search IconSearch
February 4, 2022/Health Conditions/Eye Care

Is Posterior Vitreous Detachment a Serious Eye Problem?

What to do if you suddenly see lots of new ‘floaters’

A person undergoing an eye exam

Posterior vitreous detachment is quite a mouthful (and sounds a bit scary). Fortunately, this eye condition usually won’t threaten your vision or require treatment. But it can sometimes signal a more serious, sight-threatening problem. So it’s best to be checked by an ophthalmologist (a specialist who treats eyes) right away.


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

How can you tell that your vitreous may have detached? By a sudden increase in floaters — those small, typically harmless shapes that drift across your field of vision as you move your eyes.

“Vitreous detachments are pretty common,” says professor of ophthalmology at Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine Rishi P. Singh, MD. “When you see these new floaters, it’s best to have them evaluated and, specifically, to have a dilated eye examination performed by an ophthalmologist.”

What happens when the vitreous detaches?

The vitreous, a gel-like substance, accounts for 80% of the volume of your eye. It fills the interior of your eye and helps to preserve its round shape, as well as allows for light to pass through to your retina.

Tiny collagen fibers secure the vitreous to its base near the front of your eye. They also secure it to your optic nerve and retina in the back of your eye.

But, over time, the collagen fibers degrade, or wear down, and the vitreous gradually liquefies. This makes the gel unstable, and the vitreous contracts, moving forward in the eye and separating from your retina.

When this happens, you see new floaters — caused by stringy strands in the vitreous that are casting shadows on your retina. Often, they’re accompanied by flashes of light — usually in your peripheral vision — and especially visible in the dark.

The flashes and floaters generally subside within one to three months, and 85% of people with posterior vitreous detachment experience no further problems.

What problems can arise from vitreous separation?

Usually, as the vitreous shrinks, the collagen fibers connecting it to the retina break off, and no harm is done.

Occasionally, however, the fibers don’t break off easily and tug at your retina instead. If they pull hard enough, the tension can detach your retina or tear it. Both conditions can cause vision loss and require immediate treatment.

“Very few people with vitreous detachment have a very serious tear or retinal detachment,” Dr. Singh notes.

But both vitreous and retinal detachment can cause a spike in flashes and floaters, so it’s hard to distinguish between the two.

“You actually have to go in and have an evaluation to determine that,” he adds. “If you have those symptoms, definitely make sure you get checked.”

Can retinal detachments and tears be fixed?

Retinal tears are treated with office-based procedures using lasers or extreme cold to seal the tear.

Retinal detachments are treated in the same way but also require surgery to reattach your retina to the back wall of your eye.

During surgery, it may be necessary to remove the vitreous. Surgeons will inject gas into your eye to fill the space occupied by the vitreous. This temporarily holds your retina in place, as your eye heals and produces fluid that replaces the vitreous permanently.

“These vitreous detachment treatments are very successful, and their success rate approaches 90%,” Dr. Singh says. “But earlier treatment is important because people who get treated earlier get better results.”

Who’s at risk of posterior vitreous detachment?

The risk factors for vitreous detachment include:

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


People over age 60 are more likely to develop vitreous detachment. But if you’re nearsighted or have suffered eye trauma, you’re more likely to develop it at a younger age. And if you’ve had vitreous detachment in one eye, you’re likely to experience it in the other eye within a year.

It’s good to be aware when you’re at increased risk — then you’ll know to see an ophthalmologist promptly if new floaters and flashes develop. The biggest signs for concern of a retinal tear or detachment are a black cloud or veil in your vision, which you cannot see through, persistent flashing lights or a shower of floaters.

Meanwhile, remember to safeguard your eyes. Wear protective goggles when you play sports, when you work with saws or other tools that create debris, and when you handle more dangerous items like fireworks.


Learn more about our editorial process.

Related Articles

An irritated, red eye
July 15, 2024/Eye Care
Why Your Eyes Are Always Red (and How To Fix Them)

Peepers get pink for lots of reasons, from allergies to closed-angle glaucoma

Adult receiving eye drops from a healthcare provider
May 10, 2024/Eye Care
When Is It Too Late To Treat Lazy Eye?

While it’s best to fix amblyopia during childhood, it can also be addressed as an adult

Person vacuuming around living room
April 17, 2024/Eye Care
5 Tips for Coping With Geographic Atrophy

Preserving your social life and protecting your mental health are key to living well with vision loss

Person holding up sunglasses
April 16, 2024/Eye Care
9 Tips for Living Well With Geographic Atrophy

Start low-vision rehabilitation as soon as possible and see your retina specialist at least every six months

Colorblind glasses showing houses on shoreline in color
April 11, 2024/Eye Care
What We Know About Color Blind Glasses

These trendy glasses might brighten some shades and help you see the difference between colors or brightness of hues, but they won’t cure your color vision deficiency

Person with pink eye
March 22, 2024/Eye Care
Here’s How To Get Rid of Pink Eye Fast

Eye drops and cold water rinses can help speed up healing for viral and allergen-related conjunctivitis, but a bacterial infection will need antibiotics

Eye doctor holding glasses and a prescription
March 20, 2024/Eye Care
Got a New Eye Prescription? Here’s What It Means

Your eye prescription reveals a lot about your eye health, including how they’re shaped, how well you see and what your new glasses can do for your sight

person holding wearing glasses, holding cell phone and rubbing their eye
March 18, 2024/Eye Care
The Dangers of Rubbing Itchy Eyes

From scratching your cornea and tearing your retina to introducing allergens and causing infections, pawing at your peepers just doesn’t pay off

Trending Topics

Female and friend jogging outside
How To Increase Your Metabolism for Weight Loss

Focus on your body’s metabolic set point by eating healthy foods, making exercise a part of your routine and reducing stress

stovetop with stainless steel cookware and glassware
5 Ways Forever Chemicals (PFAS) May Affect Your Health

PFAS chemicals may make life easier — but they aren’t always so easy on the human body

jar of rice water and brush, with rice scattered around table
Could Rice Water Be the Secret To Healthier Hair?

While there’s little risk in trying this hair care treatment, there isn’t much science to back up the claims