Retinal Tears or Detachments

When people reach middle age, the clear jelly-like fluid that fills the inside of your eye may start to liquify and shrink. The vitreous gel will eventually pull away from the back wall of the eye, causing a posterior vitreous detachment (PVD). This condition naturally occurs when people reach their late 50s or early 60s, but sometimes earlier or later in life. It can happen earlier in people who:

  • Are nearsighted
  • Have had cataract surgery
  • Have had laser surgery
  • Have had inflammation inside the eye

PVDs often cause symptoms of new floaters in the vision and flashing of lights. Sometimes these symptoms can indicate problems such as retinal tears or detachments.The appearance of flashing lights or floaters may be alarming, especially if they develop suddenly. While not all floaters and flashes are serious, you should have a medical examination by an eye care specialist to make sure there has been no damage to your retina.

Retinal Tear Overview

Retinal Detachment Overview

What causes the flashing lights?

When the vitreous gel pulls on the retina, you may see what look like flashing lights or lightning streaks. The flashes of light can appear off and on for several weeks or months. If you notice the sudden appearance of unexplained light flashes, however, you should visit your eye care specialist immediately to see if your retina has been torn.

What causes floaters?

Sometimes you may see small specks or clouds moving in your field of vision. They are called floaters. You can often see them when looking at a plain background, like a blank wall or blue sky. Floaters are actually tiny clumps of debris inside the vitreous, While these objects look like they are in front of your eye, they are actually floating inside. What you see are the shadows they cast on the retina, the nerve layer at the back of the eye that senses light and allows you to see. Floaters can have different shapes: little dots, circles, lines, clouds or cobwebs. Many people have subtle floaters for most of their lives. If you suddenly develop new or more prominent floaters, however, it can indicate a problem and should be evaluated by an eye doctor.

Vitreous Floaters

Get EyeSmart

Visit the American Academy of Opthalmology’s webpage on Retinal Detachment.