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Floaters and Flashes

What are floaters and flashes?

Floaters and flashes are common symptoms that are usually but not always harmless. Floaters are cloudy specks or particles within the eye that seem to float about in the field of vision. They are most easily observed when looking at a white wall. In actuality, these floaters are not in front of your eye, but rather they are floating inside your eye. They are condensations inside the vitreous humor (jelly-like fluid that fills the inside of your eye). Floaters can have different shapes: little dots, circles, lines, clouds or cobwebs. Flashes, on the other hand, are momentary streaks of light, and could indicate a serious problem such as posterior vitreous detachment or retinal tear.

What causes floaters and flashes?

As people age, the vitreous humor starts to liquefy centrally, forming clumps or strands inside the eye. The outer or posterior portion of the vitreous also called cortical vitreous gel pulls away from the retina, causing a posterior vitreous detachment. As the cortical vitreous detaches from the retina it pulls on the retina causing the brain to perceive flashes of light. People who are nearsighted, have undergone cataract operations, have had YAG laser surgery of the eyes and have had inflammation inside the eye are at greater risk of posterior vitreous detachment.

The appearance of floaters and flashes may be alarming, especially if they develop suddenly. You should see an ophthalmologist right away if you suddenly develop new floaters, if you see sudden flashes of light, or see a curtain or veil obscure your vision. This could indicate a torn retina and possible retinal detachment which is an ophthalmologic emergency.

How are floaters and flashes treated?

Floaters can be a nuisance if they continue to appear in your field of vision. You can try moving your eye around (looking up and down) to move them out of the way. Most floaters will fade over time; there is no indication for surgery for most floaters. Even if you have had some floaters for years, you should have an eye examination immediately if you notice new ones.

 

I see flashes of light in my vision

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