Floaters and Flashes
|Matter floating inside the eye moves into the line of sight and appears as specks floating in front of our eyes.
Floaters (also called “spots”) are tiny clumps of gel or other semi-transparent matter that drift freely inside the
vitreous, the jelly-like fluid that fills the inside of your eyes. In most cases, they are more bothersome than harmful – appearing as specks of varying shapes and sizes, or as strands, crystals, cobwebs or as fuzzy clouds that float about and may dart away when you attempt to look at them directly.
Floaters result from several causes: In childhood and early adulthood, most are pieces of blood vessels that were left suspended in the vitreous during fetal development, or small flecks of protein trapped during the formation of your eye. They may also result from specks of pigment on the muscle fibers attached to the iris, or particles caught in the tear layer in front of the eye.
More often, however, they result from the natural aging process, as the vitreous fluid deteriorates and crystal-like clumps form, a process that usually begins in your mid 40s. You may notice them more readily when looking at something bright, such as the sky or a white wall.
Floaters can affect anyone and are usually harmless, but tend to be more noticeable and frequent in people who are nearsighted, have undergone cataract surgery, or have injured or inflammed the eye. If you notice a sudden increase in floaters, see your eyecare provider, because they could indicate a more serious problem such as diabetic retinopathy, retinal hemorrhaging or the first signs of a detached retina.
Flashes, which appear as lightning streaks, shooting stars, fleeting white pinpoints or blasts of light, are false bursts of light produced by
nerves of the retina. Most adults experience flashes after age 50, as the vitreous thickens as part of the normal aging process and begins to alternately pull away from and rub against the light-sensitive retina. They also appear in those prone to migraine headaches, sometimes right before the onset of a migraine, and can also result from head trauma or by blood vessel spasms in the brain. As with floaters, flashes should be checked by an eyecare provider to ensure they’re not the early sign of a more serious problem.
If you have floaters or flashes, you may notice:
- Spots, strands or shadowy shapes that appears to float or move
- Flashes of light that appear as streaks of jagged lines
- A migraine or headache may follow
There is no way to prevent floaters or flashes, but if they occur suddenly or frequently, see your eyecare provider.
Floaters and flashes are usually harmless and fade over time. When everyday floaters are bothering you, try looking up and down and from side-to-side. This stirs the vitreous fluid in your eyes, moving floaters away from your line of vision. Flashes caused by the vitreous separating from the retina are a normal part of aging and should subside in a few weeks or months.
There is no safe, reliable treatment to control or eliminate floaters or flashes. If you notice a sudden or dramatic increase in floaters or flashes that last more than 20 minutes, seek immediate medical attention, as this may indicate that you have retinal damage and left untreated, permanent vision loss may result. Surgery may repair damage if caught early.
In the rare case that vision is almost entirely clouded by floaters and floaters, a vitrectomy may be performed. In this procedure, the vitreous is replaced by clear saline solution to improve vision clarity. This is not usually recommended due to the high risk of total blindness associated with the procedure.