The vitreous is a jelly-like substance that adheres to the retina. As we get older, the vitreous shrinks in size and pulls away from the retina. We call this a posterior vitreous detachment. This shrinkage of the vitreous can cause flashes of light and floaters. Sometimes, the vitreous pulls too hard on the retina and causes a tear in the retina. A retinal tear can lead to a retinal detachment.
When a patient sees flashes and floaters, he/she should be seen by an eye doctor to ensure that no tear is developing in the retina. If a retinal tear is found on examination, this should be treated with either laser therapy or cryopexy right away to help prevent a retinal detachment. As with all procedures - the risks, benefits, and alternatives must always be considered.