Eye Floaters and Flashes
What Are Floaters?
It’s not uncommon for people to see transparent, shadowy, or semi-dark shapes in their field of vision. These shapes can resemble specks of dust, squiggly lines, or even spider webs. You most often notice them when you’re looking at a plain, flat background, such as a wall or the sky. These little shapes are known as floaters.
While floaters may look like they’re on the surface of whatever it is you’re looking at, they’re actually caused by little bits of vitreous debris floating inside of your eye. What you’re actually seeing is the shadow cast by these small clumps of the vitreous gel. This becomes increasingly common as people get older. Age naturally changes the viscosity of the vitreous gel, which can lead to a condition called posterior vitreous detachment, which is when the vitreous gel shrinks away from the retina.
In addition to age, there are several other risk factors that can increase your risk of having posterior vitreous detachment. This includes:
- Cataract or laser eye surgery
- Inflammation of the eye’s internal tissues
- Myopia (i.e. nearsightedness)
Are Floaters Serious?
While floaters aren’t always a symptom of a big problem, the sudden appearance of many floaters can often be a sign of something serious. As such, it’s important to see an ophthalmologist whenever you experience the presence of new floaters.
When you have a sudden increase in floaters, it can indicate that you have a retinal tear, which is when shrinking vitreous gel causes the retina to break open a little, causing fluid and blood to seep into the retina. Not only can this cause new floaters, but it can also lead to a medical emergency known as retinal detachment. This occurs when the fluid that has seeped under the retina ends up forcing the retina out of place. The retina normally lines the back wall of the eye, but the fluid can make it peel away and lose function. The retina can tear if the shrinking of the vitreous gel pulls away from the wall of the eye.
If you experience even one new floater suddenly, flashes of light, or a loss of peripheral vision, contact an ophthalmologist right away. When a retinal tear transitions into a retinal detachment, there is a significant risk of losing your vision permanently. Your best chance of saving your vision in the event of a retinal tear or detachment is to receive care immediately. The best case scenario is that your doctor fixes the retinal tear before the retina detaches, which can only happen if you act quickly.
What Are Flashes?
As the vitreous fluid pulls on the retina, it can sometimes make it look like there are little flashes of lights or sparks of lightning in your field of vision. Like floaters, flashes of light in your field of vision can indicate a potential retinal tear or detachment.
However, flashes in your vision can also be a symptom of a condition called an ophthalmic migraine. Although migraines are typically associated with headaches, this type of migraine features only flashes of light without the headache. The flashes appear as jagged lines in both eyes and typically last up to 20 minutes.
Regardless of the types of flashes that you are experiencing, it’s recommended that you contact an ophthalmologist right away.
Schedule a Consultation for Eye Floaters and Flashes
To learn more about Flashes and Floaters, schedule a visit with one of our retina specialists, or call us toll-free at 800.331.3719 or 206.215.3850. We have locations in Seattle, Bellevue, Bellingham, Burlington, Mountlake Terrace, Kent, and Ellensburg.