Posterior vitreous detachment

So I was at a wedding over the weekend when I kept noticing brief flashes of light from the corner of my left eye, like a shooting star that I couldn’t quite focus on. At first I thought this was just the overhead lights flashing as the band was playing, but then a ball of “fuzz” started blurring my vision–an annoying floater that failed to go away when I blinked. This was followed by a series of other peripheral floaters and flashes, but my vision was otherwise clear. Like any good, self-respecting emergency physician, I didn’t panic. In fact I followed my own advice: “Don’t just do something; stand there.”


Vitreous detachment

By yesterday the flashes had pretty much disappeared but that problematic little ball of “fuzz” was still bothering me, so after 2 days I decided to see someone about it. My optometrist, Dr Mark Seipel at Southern Eyecare Associates, saw me right away and very quickly and efficiently confirmed that I had suffered a posterior vitreous detachment, a condition where the vitreous gel attachment at the back of the eyeball peels away from the retina. The little “fuzzball” was actual debris sitting in the gel of my eye. As I learned, this is a common event in folks my age. This is not the same as a retinal detachment (which is more serious), but the conditions share some similar symptoms. Because there was also a bit of hemorrhage associated with the detachment, I was referred to a retinal specialist. I was surprised this morning to get a call from their office inviting me to come in immediately.

A short time later I was seen by Dr Mark McCarthy, a retinal specialist in Norfolk, VA. I think that ophthalmologists probably have the coolest gadgets of any medical specialty and pretty soon Dr McCarthy was employing them on me to examine my retina. Incredibly bright light but not painful. He was very thorough and confirmed that my retina appeared intact, meaning no laser surgery. Simply let things heal.

It’s a very good thing to be a patient sometimes. I was super impressed with the efficiency of care I received. Maybe some of the timeliness was due to the fact that I am a physician, but I don’t think so. These people really care about “eye care.” Such a difference from the ER where everything seems to be a hassle, from delayed registration, to lab and x-ray delays, inefficient electronic medical records, and physicians and nurses so busy “multi-tasking” that no time is left for the actual caring of patients.

What I didn’t see in either office was a physician, nurse, or other healthcare provider tied up entering medical data into a computer. No doctor in their right mind can run an efficient practice while spending 50% of his/her time at a computer. Hats off to my colleagues who exceeded all expectations for their efficiency, compassion, and timeliness. Restored my faith in medicine knowing that such dedicated healthcare professionals are out there waiting and willing to help.

2 thoughts on “Posterior vitreous detachment

  1. Dr Clare thank you for sharing your story. I’m currently going through the exact same kind of situation. This past week I’ve been to three eye specialty clinics. All saying that I have the same thing as what I just read in your story.
    My question to you: how long did it take for your “fuzz ball” or what I call it “UFO shaped like a contact lens” to settle down or dissolve to where it was no longer in your vision? Because mine seems to be is smack right in my view! Ugh!
    Thank you for any feedback.

    • My symptoms persisted for a long time (more than a year). The brain is quite good at “ignoring” extraneous input so I noticed it less as time went on, but it didn’t completely resolve. My case was complicated by a retinal detachment and required laser surgery. For an isolated posterior vitreous detachment, there is no specific treatment, although for persistent, vision-limiting symptoms a vitrectomy is sometimes performed. I have no expertise in this area and defer all evaluation and treatment to your local retina specialist. Patience is in order with a follow up exam after several weeks. This is a common problem, occurring in approximately 75% of adults older than age 65, with symptoms typically lasting for 2-4 months. Best of luck.

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