The eye is filled with a clear (invisible) jelly-like substance called the vitreous. As a part of the normal aging process, this vitreous starts to contract and pull away from the back of the eye (retina). This usually occurs abruptly and not gradually. When the vitreous pulls away, its structural configuration is changed as it mixes with fluid. The vitreous, once invisible, can now be seen. At first, the liquefied vitreous (often described as floaters) looks very cloudy and can be visually frustrating. However, over time (often months), the floaters lessen and the brain adjusts. These floaters do not significantly bother most patients after a period of adjustment.
When this vitreous jelly pulls away, the most dangerous risk is the potential development of a retinal tear. If a tear occurs, fluid may leak under the retina through the new tear. The retina could then possibly lift off the surface of the inner eye wall and detach.
Symptoms of new floaters, and/or flashes of light, should alert a patient to the possibility of a vitreous detachment. A visit to any eye doctor should be scheduled promptly to make sure a retinal tear or detachment is not present.