Vitreous separation is a natural process that occurs with age as the vitreous, the clear fluid that fills the eye, shrinks and pulls away from the retina, the structure at the back of the eye. The vitreous separation itself is benign and not a cause for concern. However, it can put a patient at risk of retinal tears or retinal detachment, both of which can lead to vision loss. For this reason, patients with signs of vitreous separation are monitored closely for any signs of developing complications.
When people are born, their eyes are filled with vitreous, also called vitreous humor. Over time, the vitreous shrinks, and becomes more stringy and fibrous. In people over 50, this shrinkage starts to become pronounced, and people over 80 are very prone to developing vitreous separation. As the vitreous pulls away from the retina, people usually notice flashes and floaters in their eyes, and these can become distracting or irritating.
The concern is that as the vitreous pulls away from the retina, the fibrous material may tug at the retina. The retina is delicate and cannot withstand very much force. As a result, it may tear, and in some cases it can detach entirely. Both of these events can cause varying degrees of vision damage and may put a patient at risk for blindness.
As people age, regular eye exams should be conducted to check on the overall health of the eyes and prescribe corrective devices for vision if necessary. If vitreous separation begins to develop, the eyes can be checked for early signs of retinal tears. Prompt treatment can repair the tears and preserve vision for the patient. Patients should be aware that tears often form in the corner of the retina and that they may not be aware of their vision loss without an eye exam to assess retinal health.
The systems in the body do eventually wear down with age and use. Vitreous shrinkage is only one example. Taking steps early in life can slow the rate of degeneration and keep people more comfortable as they age. Eating a balanced diet, having regular medical exams to identify risks and problems early, and following recommendations for medical treatment can keep people healthier longer. People should also be aware that some degeneration has genetic components. If there is a family history of a problem that tends to appear with age, it should be discussed with a doctor to see if there are any particular steps that can be taken.