Floaters and Flashes
Though typically harmless, bothersome floaters and sudden flashes in your eyesight can be signs of eye diseases requiring emergency care.
Floaters are projected by clumps within the vitreous, the jelly filling your eye. Flashes happen when the vitreous tugs on the retinal wall.
How do you know if you suffer from floaters or flashes?
Symptoms Develop Suddenly & Most Disappear Immediately
Floating Spots in Your Field of Vision
As you shift your eyesight, floaters appear as spots, specks, circles, or “cobwebs” which block your field of vision.
Sudden Flashes in Your Vision Can Be Alarming
Many describe the experience as seeing flashing lights, streaks of lightning, or “seeing stars.”
Age-Related Flashes & Floaters Are Common
Although you can experience flashes and floaters at any age, your chances of seeing them increase as you get older. Aging causes the gel inside of your eyes to shrink, forming clumps. These clumps project shadows onto the retina and cause floaters. Alternatively, shrinkage causes tugging on the retina, which you experience as flashes. However, these can also be symptoms of a more serious retinal disease.
Can anything else cause flashes and floaters?
Which Factors Can Contribute to Floaters and Flashes?
Age-related floaters and flashers occur as the jelly inside of your eye shrinks away from the retina, creating clumps or pulling on your retina. More than 50 percent of patients over the age of 70 experience floaters.
Weak capillaries in the blood can leak blood and create clots in the vitreous. These clots cast shadows on the retina.
You should seek immediate medical attention if you experience sudden symptoms. Usually presenting itself as a sudden onset of flashes, floaters, or vision loss, retinal detachment occurs when the retina is pulled away from the back wall of your eye. Delaying treatment can result in permanent vision loss.
"Most causes of new floaters and flashes can be determined through a clinical exam by an ophthalmologist." Kellogg Eye Center
Is There a Way to Prevent Floaters and Flashes?
Attend Regular Eye Exams
Your doctor can diagnose your symptoms and address serious issues during a routine eye exam, reducing your chances of total vision loss.
Stay in Good Overall Health
As diabetes has been linked to floaters, maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help you control your glucose levels and reduce your risk of diabetes.
Protect your eyes
As some floaters are caused by trauma, you should be careful to avoid impacts with your eyes. Wear protective goggles when working or participating in contact sports. To avoid cataracts, wear sunglasses and avoid prolonged sun exposure.
Call a Doctor Immediately If You Experience Sudden, Heavy Flashes and Floaters
If you experience a sudden, heavy, and persistent onset of flashes and floaters, contact a doctor immediately. These can be signs of a retinal tear or detachment, which can lead to permanent vision loss if left untreated.
This doctor is performing a slit lamp exam to diagnose the presence of flashes and floaters.
Your doctor will dilate your eyes using eye drops to check for a retinal tear and determine whether the floaters or flashes are caused by any diseases. Depending on the source of your symptoms, your doctor may perform additional testing including a slit lamp exam.
Most Patients Do Not Require Treatment Unless There is Retinal Damage
If your doctor determines that your symptoms are not being caused by retinal disease, you may wait and find that the spots become less noticeable or disappear entirely. Often, surgery poses a higher risk of complication compared to the inconvenience of floaters and flashes.
Get Temporary Relief
An executive editor for Harvard Medical School recommends moving your eyes up and down or left to right to shift floaters out of your field of vision.
Ask about Laser Treatment or Surgery
Laser treatment studies have been inconclusive, and a vitrectomy poses a higher risk to your eye health than leaving the floaters and flashes untreated.
Retinal Detachment Treatment
Thanks to modern technology, 90 percent of retinal detachment cases can be successfully treated with laser treatment or cryopexy to reattach the retina to the back wall of the eye.
Call Your Eye Doctor
Although 90 percent of patients with flashes and floaters are not bothered or affected by them, you should consult your doctor immediately if you have a sudden increase in floaters and flashes or if you experience sudden vision loss, as these can be signs of serious, vision-threatening retinal disease.