Have you ever seen black spots in your vision, or experienced flashes of light? Floaters and flashes are common occurrences and can be irritating but usually are harmless. There are instances, however, when floaters and flashes signify a serious problem, such as a retinal detachment.
What are floaters?
Floaters are small fragments of the gel-like substance called the vitreous, which fills the eye. Floaters are usually the result of the aging process when the vitreous gel shrinks, pulls away from the retina, and forms small clumps. Floaters are noticed when they interfere with vision by blocking the light as it enters the eye. Floaters may look like spots, lines, cobwebs or spiders and are noticed mostly when reading, looking at a blank wall or staring at a clear sky.
Floaters are most common in people who are nearsighted, people who’ve had an eye injury and sometimes after surgery. Floaters usually come and go, changing their location. If a floater interferes with the direct line of sight, moving the eye around by looking up and down or back and forth will move the vitreous fluid and reposition the floater.
When do floaters indicate a serious problem?
As the vitreous gel shrinks away from the retina, the retina may become torn and cause bleeding. These tears require immediate medical intervention by an ophthalmologist in the form of painless laser treatment in order to prevent a retinal detachment, which can lead to partial or complete blindness.
What are flashes?
Flashes are described as the sensation of “seeing stars” when hit on the head. These flashes appear as flashing lights or lightening streaks and are common at night or in dark places. Even though the sensation is one of seeing light, no light is actually flashing. Flashes result from the vitreous gel pulling on the retina. If the vitreous actually separates from the retina flashes may be seen consistently for weeks. These also are a result of the aging process and usually do not indicate any serious problem. Eventually flashes will fade away as the pulling of the vitreous gel decreases over time.
When do flashes indicate a serious problem?
If flashes appear suddenly with a series of new floaters or with a partial loss of vision, it is important to have a complete eye exam by an ophthalmologist within 1-2 days. If a retinal detachment is present surgical intervention may be necessary. Sometimes flashes appear during a migraine headache and distort vision for up to 20 minutes and are seen as jagged lines or waves in both eyes.
If you are experiencing floaters or flashes, click here to fill out our quick email form or call our office at 810-732-2272, so we can be of service.