What are floaters and flashes?

Floaters are relatively transparent, vague, usually curved objects that you may occasionally see floating in your field of vision. They are seen best when looking at a white piece of paper, blue sky, light colored ceiling, or wall. They sometimes look like cobwebs, worms, circles, lines, clouds, dots, or specks. Eye movement makes floaters more visible as they swirl about like seaweed in the ocean surf. Floaters may seem to “run-away” when you try to look at them.

Flashes, on the other hand, are momentary streaks of light, and could indicate a serious problem such as posterior vitreous detachment or retinal tear. Floaters and flashes are common symptoms that are usually but not always harmless. Both floaters and flashes commonly occur as we grow older.

What causes floaters and flashes?

causes floaters and flashesAs people age, the vitreous humor starts to liquefy centrally, forming clumps or strands inside the eye. The outer portion of the vitreous gel pulls away from the retina, causing a vitreous detachment, causing the brain to perceive flashes of light. People who are nearsighted, have undergone cataract operations, have had YAG laser surgery of the eyes and have had inflammation inside the eye are at greater risk of vitreous detachment. When the vitreous gel which fills the inside of the eye rubs or pulls on the retina, it sometimes produces the illusion of flashing lights. The flashes of light may appear off and on for several weeks or months. On rare occasions, light flashes accompany a large number of new floaters and even a partial loss or shadowing of side vision.

The appearance of floaters may be alarming, especially if they develop suddenly in a person over 45 years of age. An ophthalmologist should be consulted right away if you see sudden flashes of light, or see a curtain or veil obscure your vision. This could indicate a torn retina which is always a serious problem since it can lead to a retinal detachment. While floaters may remain in the vision, many of them will fade over time and become less bothersome. Even if you have had floaters for some years, an ophthalmologist should be consulted if new ones develop.

How common are flashes and floaters?

Very common. Over 70% of the population experiences these problems.

Are eye strain, nutrition, general health, smoking, or emotional stress related to flashes and floaters?

No, there is no known relationship between flashes or floaters and any of these problems.

Can anything be done to stop the bothersome floaters?

No, nothing can be done to prevent floaters. Floaters can be a nuisance if they continue to appear in your field of vision. You can try moving your eye around (looking up and down) to move them out of the way. Most floaters will fade over time. If they bother you a lot when you read, try turning down the light or blinking. This usually helps.

Is there a medication or eye drop for the treatment for flashes or floaters?

No, there is no medicine, eye drop, vitamin, herb, or diet that is beneficial to patients with flashes or floaters.

If one eye develops flashes or floaters will the other develop them as well?

Very likely. In the case of a posterior vitreous separation, it is very common for the same condition to occur in the second eye within a year. For this reason, and because flashes and floaters are sometimes caused by retinal breaks, both eyes should have adilated fundus exam as soon as possible when flashes or floaters develop in either eye.

Do floaters and flashes eventually disappear?

Flashes will almost always go away completely. It usually takes about a month, but sometimes it can take up to six months. Floaters will gradually get smaller and less noticeable as the weeks and months go by, but usually they never disappear completely.

Are floaters and flashes serious?

causes floaters and flashesDo not worry if you have a few floaters. Generally, a few floaters do not mean that you have a serious eye problem. You need to see your eye doctor for an eye exam if a large number of floaters suddenly appear in your vision, or if they seem to worsen over time. If the floaters appear along with flashes of light or if you have any vision loss, you should seek immediate medical attention. These could be signs of a serious condition, such as, retinal tears, hemorrhaging due to diabetes, or high blood pressure. It is important that you see a doctor because retinal tears and hemorrhage can cause vision loss.

Can floaters and flashes cause total blindness?

Not by themselves. However, floaters and flashes can be related to retinal detachment or a variety of vascular conditions such as diabetic retinopathy, which can result in blindness if not treated.

How are flashes and floaters detected?

ophthalmoscopeThe ophthalmoscope is frequently used to examine both the central and peripheral retina which will detect the presence of floaters and or flashes. The slit-lamp, combining a microscope with a strong illumination, is often used with a hand held lens, allowing portions of the retina to be seen in greater detail. Some patients are given an intravenous injection of fluorescein dye in a procedure called “fluorescein angiography”. The dye which takes only moments to reach the eye, makes tiny blood vessels visible, enabling photographs to be taken for later study.

What is the treatment for flashes and floaters?

Eye Doctor Bay AreaAlthough annoying, floaters are not usually vision threatening and do not require treatment. Often floaters diminish and become less bothersome over time. If a floater appears directly in the line of vision, moving the eye around will often help. In cases where floaters do indicate a more serious condition such as retinal tear, lasers can be used to prevent vision loss.

Like floaters, unless they represent the symptoms of a more serious condition, flashes do not require treatment. Flashes which are a result of the vitreous pulling away from the retina will eventually stop. However, flashes may be a warning for retinal detachment which needs immediate medical attention.

I want to get my eyes checked for floaters and flashes, what is the next step?

Schedule an appointment at NeoVision Eye Center by calling toll free at 1-877-NEOVISION (1-877-636-8474).

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