Carolina Macula & Retina                                              John Gross, MD
                                                                                   
Floaters & Flashes




What are floaters?

Eye floaters are spots in your vision. Eye floaters may look like black or gray specks, strings or cobwebs that drift about when you move your eyes.

Most eye floaters are caused by age-related changes that occur as the jelly-like substance (vitreous) inside your eyes becomes more liquid. When this happens, microscopic fibers within the vitreous tend to clump together and can cast tiny shadows on your retina, which you may see as eye floaters.

If you notice a sudden increase in the number of eye floaters, contact an eye specialist immediately — especially if you also see flashes of light or lose your peripheral vision. These can be symptoms of a retinal tear or detachment which is an emergency that requires prompt attention.

Symptoms of eye floaters:

  • Spots in your vision that may look like dark specks or knobby, transparent strings of floating material
  • Spots that move when you move your eyes, so when you try to look at them, they move quickly out of your visual field
  • Spots that are most noticeable when you look at a plain bright background, such as a blue sky or a white wall
  • Spots that eventually settle down and drift out of the line of vision

Most eye floaters don't require treatment
In most cases, eye floaters don't require treatment. Learning to cope with your floaters may take time. Living with eye floaters may be frustrating. With time, you may find you can ignore the floaters more easily and that you notice the floaters less often.

Treatments for floaters that impair your vision
In rare cases, your eye floaters may impair your vision. Rarely, floaters may be so large or so numerous that it's difficult to go about your daily tasks. In these situations, you and your eye doctor may consider treatment for your eye floaters.

Options may include:

  • Using a laser to dissolve floaters. During laser therapy, an ophthalmologist aims a special laser at the floaters in the vitreous. The laser may break up the floaters and make them less noticeable. Some people who undergo laser therapy for their floaters report improved vision, while others notice little or no difference. Risks of laser therapy include damage to your retina that can occur if the laser is pointed incorrectly. Laser surgery to treat floaters is considered experimental and isn't widely used.
  • Using surgery to remove the vitreous. During a vitrectomy procedure, an ophthalmologist makes a small incision in your eye and removes the gel-like vitreous. A solution is placed in the eye to help it maintain its shape. Eventually, your body makes and fills your eye with fluid that will replace the solution. Vitrectomy may not remove all the floaters in your vision, and new floaters can develop after surgery. Risks of vitrectomy include bleeding and retinal tears.

 

 

 

What are flashers?

Eye Flashes are experienced in the form of lighting streaks or flashing lights. This happens when the vitreous gel in the eye rubs on the retina. However, eye flashes can also be triggered due to a disease, head trauma or exposure to chemicals. In most cases, eye flashes are benign and are no cause of concern. Unfortunately, the leading symptom of a retinal detachment
is eye flashes, which is why all cases of light flashes should be taken to a professional.

Symptoms:
Sudden flashes of lights or 'stars'. In some cases the flashes of light can be in the form of jagged lines which last for 10 to 20 minutes. The light flashes associated with a migraine have shapes, colors and last longer. On the other hand, the flashes associated with vitreous separation are shorter and without any kind of shapes. If eye flashes are accompanied by a headache, then it's most probably a migraine headache.

Causes:
Aging is one of the main causes of eye flashes. As one reaches middle age, the vitreous gel in the eye starts thickening and forms clumps inside the eye. The shrinking vitreous gel starts pulling away from the retina leading to a vitreous detachment. Posterior vitreous detachment is more commonly found in the following individuals: myopic patients, those who have undergone cataract operations, those who have experienced inflammation in the eye or those with hereditary defects.

Although eye flashes are normal and will occur to most people throughout their lives, if you notice eye flashes for no apparent reason, you should consult an eye doctor as soon as possible. Eye flashes are perfectly normal during exercise and other strenuous activities; although those activities should be avoided in the future as eye flashes are the brain's way to alert you of pain in the retina (you can't experience the sensation of pain in your retina).

Although a posterior vitreous detachment (PVD) is generally a part of the natural aging process and cannot be prevented, there are numerous factors that can increase the chances of a retinal detachment. These factors can include major eye/head trauma, hereditary history of retinal detachments, myopia and previous surgery. Individuals with these factors have a high risk of undergoing vitreous detachment complications
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Vision impaired by floaters