Natural history of posterior vitreous detachment with early management as the premier line of defense against retinal detachment

N E Byer
Ophthalmology 1994, 101 (9): 1503-13; discussion 1513-4

PURPOSE: This study was designed to elucidate various aspects of the natural history of posterior vitreous detachment (PVD), in particular the relation between symptomatology and prognosis as it relates to management of patients with the earliest symptoms of PVD.

METHODS: A prospective study of 350 consecutive patients with PVD was performed, excluding all patients referred from an ophthalmologist, those with symptoms of more than 3 months in duration, and those with a history of ocular trauma, except for cataract surgery. Aphakia was present in 21 eyes, and 50 patients were bilaterally involved.

RESULTS: Of 163 patients who had one to two floaters as their presenting symptom, with or without light flashes, a retinal tear developed in 12 (7.3%). Of 31 phakic eyes with secondary retinal tears on initial examination, 9 (29%) had one to two floaters and light flashes as the only symptoms. Of eight phakic eyes that initially, or eventually, had a retinal detachment, three (37%) had an interval of 2 1/2 to 3 weeks before visual field loss, during which they noticed only one to three visual floaters plus light flashes as their only symptoms. This early stage in which symptoms are detectable is crucial in terms of providing an opportunity for early treatment that might prevent retinal detachments.

CONCLUSIONS: The prompt and conscientious vitreoretinal examination of each patient older than 45 years of age who experiences vitreous floaters, even though limited to one or two, should be undertaken without delay. This practice, combined with expeditious treatment of any secondary retinal tears, provides the most effective known means of preventing rhegmatogenous retinal detachment, and currently it appears to be neglected. A national public educational effort should be pursued to publicize the importance of these symptoms.

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