Floaters & Flashes
Picture this: you’re gazing out into the distance, deep in thought, then it happens—squiggly specks appear in your line of sight. You try to get a good look at them, but they seem to wriggle away just as you focus on them. You have just spotted a floater. Floaters come in many forms: flecks, dots, circles, lines or might even be spider-web in shape. Just what are these elusive and sometimes annoying bodies?
Floaters are made up of clumps of gel or cells that are moving freely about the vitreous—a gel-like substance that fills the inside of your eye. As we get older, the vitreous starts to shrink and pull away from the back of the eye. This is known as “posterior vitreous detachment.” Floaters occasionally form as a result of this detachment. Individuals are more likely to experience floaters if they are near-sighted, have had surgery for cataracts, or have swelling/inflammation inside the eye. Floaters are not normally a serious risk to your eye health, and tend to fade or go away over time.
Another eye annoyance is what is known as a “flash.” Flashes appear as fleeting lightning bolts or flashing lights in your vision. Some people compare the sensation to the “seeing stars” effect of being hit on the head. Occasionally flashes will be accompanied by a headache. This condition is known as a “migraine headache.” Flashes may occur for weeks or months at a time. Much like floaters, flashes occur as a result of vitreous gel rubbing or pulling on the retina. Flashes are likely to occur as you get older.
Floaters and flashes are usually harmless, but there are some situations where they might be signs of a serious condition. You should call your ophthalmologist right away if you notice an abundance of new floaters, experience many flashes, if shadows appear in your peripheral (side) vision, or if a gray curtain covers part of your vision. These could be symptoms of a torn or detached retina; a serious condition that needs immediate treatment. You should call your doctor if you experience any sudden or severe symptoms.
Routine eye exams play a critical role in the health of your vision. Contact your ophthalmologist to schedule regular checkups.