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Posterior Vitreous Detachment

Our eye is full of jelly called the vitreous humour which consists of 98% water and 2% collagen. As we age the protein component in the vitreous denaturises causing it to liquefy, with the result that instead of having the consistency of jelly, it is more like warm honey. Eventually the jelly becomes so liquefied that it collapses, pulling away from the retina. This process occurs in 20% of people at age 55 and up to 75% of people at age 65 and is termed a posterior vitreous detachment (PVD).

The initial symptoms of a PVD are similar to those of a retinal detachment: 

Vitreous Humour 

It is essential to perform a dilated fundus examination when you first develop symptoms of a PVD. This involves the optometrist placing drops in the eye to enlarge the pupil, waiting 20 minutes, then examining the retina to ensure no retinal breaks or tears have developed. Sometimes scleral indentation will be performed, which involves the optometrist pressing a small metal probe around the white part of the eye to facilitate a better view of the peripheral retina. 

When symptoms of a PVD are first noticed, usually only a section of the jelly has started peeling off. This is termed a partial PVD and the reason a fundus examination needs to repeated 4 to 6 weeks after the initial symptoms. This is to ensure that no retinal tears appear over the next month as the vitreous continues to detach from the retina. It would be prudent to avoid contact sports until the jelly has totally detached.  

During the few months after the initial PVD, if symptoms become more frequent or you develop a shadow in your visual fields like a curtain or veil, you must return immediately for another retinal examination.

There is no treatment necessary for a PVD unless it is associated with a retinal break. The flashes of light will generally lessen after several weeks and the floaters after 6-9 months. If a large central floater develops then sometimes this can be treated with a YAG laser to break it into smaller floaters. Otherwise in visually debilitating cases a vitrectomy can be performed whereby the vitreous is  surgically removed and replaced with clear fluid. 

Sometimes an epi-retinal membrane can develop some months after a PVD. This is where a membrane similar in appearance to clear cellophane develops above the retinal surface. Very occasionally this membrane can affect the vision by wrinkling the retina and requires surgical stripping.  

Techniques to lessen the visual effect of a PVD: