Many people experience the sight of floaters, which look like squiggly threads or specks drifting across their field of vision. Flashes are also a common sight, like sparks of light that flicker or glide by. And after you’ve had flashes and floaters for a while, these little shapes will become so familiar that you won’t even notice them. But now and then, you probably wonder about them. What are floaters and flashes? Are they ever a reason for concern? And should you do something about them?
What are flashes and floaters?
To understand floaters and flashes, you need to have a good understanding of what’s inside your eye. Here’s a brief rundown by our Copperas Cove, TX, eye doctor.
Vitreous humor is a transparent, stable gel (similar to the consistency of egg white) that fills the back of your eyeball. This gel provides a route for light to enter your eye and travel through the lens to the retina. Once light reaches the light-sensitive cells of the retina, images are captured and sent to your brain via the optic nerve. As you age, the vitreous humor gradually shrinks and the texture can become stringier.
Floaters are caused by strands of vitreous humor, which are very small clusters of cells or a bit of protein. When you see a floater, you are actually seeing the shadow that this cluster of cells casts onto your retina. As you move your eye, the floater will move too. If you ever try to focus in on your floaters, you’ll notice that they seem to zoom away when you look at them directly. When your eyeball stops moving, they tend to drift around slowly.
If your vitreous gel bumps or tugs against your retina, harmless flashes occur.
Who gets flashes and floaters?
A lot of people. At Cove Eyecare, we diagnose these visual specks all the time. Approximately 25% of people above the age of 60 have some vitreous shrinkage with floaters. In the elderly above 80 years old, that number rises to about two-thirds of all people. Floaters are also more common in people with nearsightedness, diabetes, and those who have suffered a previous eye injury or underwent cataract surgery.
Are floaters and flashes a medical problem?
Usually, our Copperas Cove, TX, patients present with flashes and floaters that are harmless and require no treatment. However, sometimes they are a warning sign of an eye condition that can lead to vision loss, especially when a bunch of new floaters comes on suddenly.
As the vitreous shrinks, it can pull on the retina and detach from it. Called a posterior vitreous detachment, this occurrence is rather common and generally doesn’t threaten vision. Yet in about one in six people, it leads to a retinal tear. Once that happens, fluid from inside your eye can then leak through the tear and separate the retina from the tissues that support it. Even though it is painless, retinal detachment is sight-threatening and requires immediate medical attention.
If you experience a new onset of floaters, it is best to call our Copperas Cove, TX, eye care center immediately for an urgent eye exam. Our eye doctor will perform a comprehensive eye exam to reveal the source of your flashes and floaters.
What are the signs of a retinal tear and detachment?
It’s wise to be aware of the warning signs of a retinal tear and detachment, so you know when to call Cove Eyecare and book an emergency eye exam. The most typical symptoms are:
- Sudden appearance of new floaters and flashes
- Gradual shading of your field of vision, like a curtain being drawn from one side
- Rapid blurring of your central vision, which occurs when the macula detaches
What’s the treatment for a retinal tear or retinal detachment?
If we diagnose a retinal tear early, it can be treated to prevent the retina from detaching. Treatment involves either using laser to fuse the retina to the back wall of your eye (laser photocoagulation), or using cryopexy (extreme cold) to accomplish the same goal.
Once the retina detaches, cold and laser light can be used along with the injection of a gas bubble to fix and reattach the retina (pneumatic retinopexy). Several other procedures, including scleral buckling and vitrectomy, may also be done, depending on the judgment of your eye doctor.
Is there any treatment for benign flashes and floaters?
Generally, people tolerate floaters and flashes with no problem and simply get used to them. However, some people are very disturbed by them and feel that their ability to read is disrupted. In that case, there is laser treatment for benign floaters, but the approach has not yet been studied in a full clinical trial, and the risk to vision from the surgery may be greater than the disturbance caused by the floater.
One trick to living with floaters is to move your eyes up and down, left and right, to shift the floater out of sight. Most of our Copperas Cove, TX, eye care patients report that this action is enough to provide relief and make the floaters “disappear” temporarily.
If floaters and flashes are getting in your way – especially if they come on suddenly – call Cove Eyecare to schedule an eye exam with our Copperas Cove, TX, eye doctor.