Flashes and Floaters

Floaters are those threads, spots or cob-web like debris that move around in our field of vision. Floaters are particularly pronounced when looking at a bright or white background like the sky, a piece of white paper or a computer screen. Generally, while annoying, floaters are of no particular medical concern.

Though floaters may occur at any age, they typically appear as we age. During the aging process, the gel-like substance that gives shape to our eyes (vitreous) begins to dissolve and liquefy. When undissolved vitreous floats around a liquefied portion, it produces what we call a “floater.”

Once enough of the vitreous has dissolved, it can pull free of its attachments to the back of the eye. If this occurs, there is often a sudden and dramatic event, called a posterior vitreous detachment.

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Understanding Vitreous Detachment

Common symptoms of posterior vitreous detachments are floaters and light flashes. As the vitreous gel pulls loose from the back of the eye, it tugs on the wallpaper lining the back of the eye. This wallpaper is called the retina. The retina is a thin tissue that functions in the eye like the film does in a camera; it is the light-sensing part of the eye. When the retina is tugged on, it generates the sensation of flashing lights in the periphery of your vision.

Floaters are annoying but not usually a threat to vision. However, flashing lights can be  more worrisome. Sometimes when the vitreous tugs on the retina as it is pulling loose, it can pull so hard that it makes small rips or tears in the retina. The liquefied vitreous can then pass through the hole and cause the retina to come loose from the back of the eye. This is called a retinal detachment. If you have a retinal detachment, you may notice sections of your vision disappearing, as if a curtain or veil is covering parts of your vision. A retinal detachment is an emergency and often requires surgical repair.

If you have the sudden onset of new floaters and/or flashing lights in the periphery of your vision, call your eye doctor immediately to arrange a prompt examination. During this examination, your pupils will be dilated to examine your retina to make sure there is no retinal detachment. While they are uncommon, retinal detachments can cause vision loss, and repairing them quickly is the best way to save your sight.

Thank you for reviewing our ophthalmology website and learning about eye issues with the retina as well as flashes and floaters. Retina eye problems can be very serious and might require regular attention. This information should not be interpreted as legal advice. All retina eye care patients should consult directly with a retina eye specialist regarding eye issues of the retina such as flashes, diabetic retinopathy, macular edema, retinitis pigmatosa and macular degeneration. If you are seeking a Kentucky retina eye doctor please feel free to contact us.

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