What is the Vitreous Humor?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
The vitreous humor is a clear gel which fills most of the interior of the eyeball.
The vitreous humor is a clear gel which fills most of the interior of the eyeball.

The vitreous or vitreous humor is a clear fluid which fills the eye between the lens and the retina. This fluid helps the eye hold its shape, with light being transmitted through it to the retina. As people age, they sometimes develop problems in this area of the eye which lead to floaters and dark spots in the vision. These issues can be addressed with a procedure known as a vitrectomy, in which part of the vitreous humor is removed.

Vitreous detachment can cause vision problems that need to be assessed by an eye care professional.
Vitreous detachment can cause vision problems that need to be assessed by an eye care professional.

99 percent of the vitreous humor is water. The remainder is a mixture of collagen, proteins, salts, and sugars. Although it is mostly made of water, it has a firm, jellylike consistency, and this helps the eye hold its shape. The contents remain fairly static over time, and has no vascularization, so once something gets into this part of the eye, it will not drift out on its own.

A vitrectomy may be used to address issues caused by the vitreous humor.
A vitrectomy may be used to address issues caused by the vitreous humor.

If objects do get into the vitreous, they can be removed in a vitrectomy. In this procedure, surgical tools are inserted into the eye and used to carefully pull out impurities in the vitreous humor which are leading to vision problems. Not all spots and floaters are caused by objects in this part of the eye, but when they are, a vitrectomy can bring about a radical improvement in vision quality very quickly.

An ophthalmologist can diagnose detachment after an eye exam.
An ophthalmologist can diagnose detachment after an eye exam.

One problem with the vitreous humor which can develop is vitreous detachment, in which it pulls away from the retina. This tends to be more common with age, and can also be accompanied with shrinking of the vitreous, which can lead to vision problems. Most commonly, when this occurs, people experience floaters in their vision which can be irritating or distracting, potentially making it hard to see or focus. An ophthalmologist can examine the eye to diagnose detachment and to explore other potential causes for vision problems.

Vitreous detachment may cause some individuals to experience floaters in their line of vision.
Vitreous detachment may cause some individuals to experience floaters in their line of vision.

The composition of the vitreous humor remains fairly stable throughout life, and after death, researchers once thought that it broke down in a very orderly fashion. For a time, it was fashionable in forensics to take a sample of this fluid after death for the purpose of estimating time of death. However, research showed that the composition of vitreous humor actually did not break down regularly and predictable, and that samples from the same person could vary radically; one eye might say that the decedent had passed away at 3:00 in the afternoon, while the other suggested 9:00 at night. When time of death was known, it often failed to match the estimates provided by testing the vitreous, so this practice was abandoned.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

anon116263

Very good article! I would change the word ophthalmologist to ophthalmologist/optometrist or perhaps eyecare professional. Optometrists these days are quite qualified to handle such situations as well. Thanks

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    • The vitreous humor is a clear gel which fills most of the interior of the eyeball.
      The vitreous humor is a clear gel which fills most of the interior of the eyeball.
    • Vitreous detachment can cause vision problems that need to be assessed by an eye care professional.
      Vitreous detachment can cause vision problems that need to be assessed by an eye care professional.
    • A vitrectomy may be used to address issues caused by the vitreous humor.
      A vitrectomy may be used to address issues caused by the vitreous humor.
    • An ophthalmologist can diagnose detachment after an eye exam.
      An ophthalmologist can diagnose detachment after an eye exam.
    • Vitreous detachment may cause some individuals to experience floaters in their line of vision.
      Vitreous detachment may cause some individuals to experience floaters in their line of vision.
    • An ophthalmologist can examine the eye to diagnose causes for vision problems.
      An ophthalmologist can examine the eye to diagnose causes for vision problems.