Posterior Vitreous Detachment: The Eye Condition You Haven’t Heard About

Also known as PVD, this issue is a common occurrence in older adults. Find out more about what it is and how it can be treated.  

what is posterior vitreous detachment

Posterior vitreous detachment (PVD) sounds like something you might read about in a sci-fi novel. Yet this nonurgent problem with the retina isn’t a fantasy, and it occurs more often than you might think. Nearly a quarter of people over 50 will experience this eye problem, and that number climbs to 87% in people who are in their 80s.   

We spoke with Jennifer Mai, O.D., an optometrist with America’s Best Contacts & Eyeglasses in Stone Mountain, Georgia, to learn more about what PVD is, how the condition is diagnosed, and what treatment options are available. 

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What Is Posterior Vitreous Detachment? 

PVD is when the posterior vitreous cortex and the internal membrane of the retina separate. Inside your eye is a hollow space that’s filled with a jellylike substance called the vitreous. It’s attached to the retina by microscopic fibers in the back of the eye. 

The vitreous changes over time, becoming more liquid in nature. As a result, it loses volume and begins pulling away from the retina, says Dr. Mai. The microscopic fibers that used to hold the vitreous to the retina separate. When enough of them detach, the vitreous becomes completely separated from the retina. That’s called posterior vitreous detachment.  

This condition mainly impacts older people, but it can happen to younger folks who have myopia (nearsightedness) or who have had eye trauma or eye surgery, Dr. Mai says.  

What Are the Most Common Symptoms of Posterior Vitreous Detachment? 

Many people don’t notice anything at all when PVD happens. Others will experience the two most common symptoms: floaters and flashes. Both are usually mild and become less noticeable within a few months, as your brain adjusts. Here’s a little bit more about each: 

  • Floaters are when you’re seeing dots, circles, lines, specks, and even cobwebs. They appear when the vitreous liquefies and clumps up. “These vitreous clumps cast a shadow on your retina,” Dr. Mai says. They’re often more noticeable when you’re in a bright environment or looking at a solid surface.  
  • Flashes can look like streaks of light or flashing lights. They happen when the vitreous pulls away, and they are more obvious when you’re in darker environments.     

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How Is Posterior Vitreous Detachment Diagnosed? 

It’s likely that you may never know if you’ve had PVD. But if you start seeing floaters or flashes of light, it’s a good idea to call your eye doctor to rule out a more serious condition such as a retinal tear or retinal detachment, Dr. Mai says. 

Your eye doctor will examine the inside of your eye to determine if you’ve had PVD. You might need a dilated eye exam if you have complications related to PVD, says Dr. Mai. Complications may include: 

  •  Vitreous hemorrhage (bleeding in the fluid of the eye) 
  •  Detached retina
  •  Neovascularization (the formation of new blood vessels) 

Recommended reading: Unexpected Eye Problems: Which Doctor Do You Need? 

What Posterior Vitreous Detachment Treatments Are Available? 

The good news is that these symptoms should eventually go away on their own. “As long as you haven’t had a complication, most cases of PVD don’t need treatment,” says Dr. Mai. However, “treatment may be necessary if the floaters remain bothersome over time,” she adds.  

Treatment options include a type of eye surgery called a vitrectomy. This is a procedure that treats various problems with the retina and vitreous. You may need a laser procedure if your posterior vitreous detachment resulted in a retinal tear.   

Medically reviewed by Jennifer Mai, O.D. 

See our sources: 
Posterior vitreous detachment frequency: Clinical Ophthalmology   
Posterior vitreous detachments: American Academy of Ophthalmology 
Vitrectomy: Johns Hopkins Medicine