Flashes and Floaters

As we get older we expect to have problems with our eyes, so we tend to ignore them. One minor symptom that can cause a bigger problem if it’s not treated is the occurrence of flashes and floaters, those tiny lights that seem to blink through your vision and that you can never catch when you direct your focus toward them.

Almost everyone sees floaters at some time, but they can occur more frequently and become more noticeable as we get older. As we age the vitreous gel inside our eye begins to dissolve into a more watery form. Once enough of the vitreous gel has dissolved the gel pulls free of its attachments to the back of the eye. This event is called a posterior vitreous detachment and often causes a number of symptoms that can be alarming.

Floaters are a common symptom from a posterior vitreous detachment. Floaters are tiny bits of debris that appear when the vitreous gel separated from the back of the eye. Floaters are most often described as a spider web, cobweb, or bug and typically will move around your vision.

Floaters are also common in people who:

  • Are nearsighted
  • Have undergone cataract surgery
  • Have had certain types of laser surgery
  • Have had inflammation of the eye

Floaters are often annoying but usually not a serious threat to your vision and in most cases no serious problems are found, but a complete eye examination is important. If there is damage to the retina, it needs to be diagnosed and treated immediately to prevent vision loss.

Another common symptom of a posterior vitreous detachment is seeing flashing lights in the very periphery of your vision. As the vitreous gel pulls loose from the back of the eye, it tugs on the retina (a thin layer lining the wall of the back of the eye). When the retina is tugged on, it generates the sensation of flashing lights.

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 as well. 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 surgery to repair.

If you have sudden onset of new floaters in your vision or flashing lights, it is important to have an examination. While they are uncommon, retinal detachments can cause vision loss, and repairing them quickly is the best way to save your vision.

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