What are Floaters & Flashes?

Floaters are small specks or particles floating inside the eye which may take on a variety of shapes and sizes. They often look like gnats, threads, or cobwebs in the field of vision. These particles become noticeable when they float into the line of sight. They may seem to move slowly across the line of sight or dart away when the eye moves to look directly at them. Floaters are more commonly seen when looking at a white background with bright, overhead illumination. Flashes are either quick or long bursts of light. They may be seen in conjunction with floaters or independently. Flashes are more commonly seen when looking at a low lit background or in total darkness.

Myodesopsia (Eye Floaters) looking at the Sky
Myodesopsia (Eye Floaters) looking at the Sky

What Causes Floaters and Flashes?

Most of the inside of the eye is filled with a jelly-like substance called vitreous. Particles floating in this vitreous gel come from one of three sources. First, debris becomes trapped in the vitreous during the development of the eye. Second, small opaque particles develop from deterioration of the vitreous or surrounding tissue. This is more common in nearsighted eyes and occurs naturally with age. Third, floaters may result from disease or injury to the vitreous or surrounding tissue. The most common causes of floaters are vitreous degeneration and aging. Light flashes in the vitreous typically occur during vitreous collapse. The vitreous begins to pull away from the retina, causing light flashes.

How Are Floaters and Flashes Treated?

The most important aspect of managing floaters and flashes is a thorough eye examination (including dilation) to allow a view of the vitreous and retina. This examination can often reveal the source of the floaters or light flashes. In many cases, once the overall health of the vitreous and retina has been established, no treatment is necessary. In other cases, the inside of the eye should be re-evaluated periodically to confirm that the vitreous and retina show no additional signs of change. If a significant problem is noted concerning the vitreous or retina, a retinal specialist should be consulted.

Are Floaters or Flashes Indications of Possible Loss of Vision?

The appearance of spots or floaters does not necessarily indicate potential loss of vision; however, in some cases, floaters are an indication of serious vitreous or retinal disease. Treatment may be necessary to prevent permanent vision loss due to a retinal tear or detachment. A thorough evaluation of the eye is essential when floaters first appear or if any change is noted in their appearance, such as a sudden increase in the number of floaters or if accompanied by flashes of light.

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