What are floaters?
Floaters are generally caused by small clumps of gel that form in the vitreous (the clear jelly-like fluid which fills the cavity inside the eye). They may be seen as dots, lines, cobwebs or spiders and are most noticed when reading, looking at a blank wall or gazing at a clear sky. While they appear to be in the front of the eye, floaters are actually due to the fluid inside the eye. Sometimes they may not interfere with vision at all. However, when they enter the line of vision, a shadow is cast on the retina (the lining at the back of the eye that converts images to electrical impulses which are sent by the optic nerve to the brain).
Floaters are usually a result of the aging process, during which the solid vitreous gel liquefies, shrinks and pulls away from the retina, occurring from the reorganization of the vitreous material and sometimes from fragments of the retina which have been pulled into the fluid within the eye. They are especially common in nearsighted people, in those who have suffered an eye injury and after eye surgery. Although annoying, floaters are usually not vision threatening and do not require treatment. Often they diminish with time.
However, in some cases, floaters may be a sign of a more serious condition. As the vitreous shrinks and pulls away from the back of the eye, the retina may be torn in the process. Liquid vitreous may then flow through the hole causing the retina to detach. Retinal tears and detachments require immediate medical attention to prevent partial or total loss of vision.
What are flashes?
Flashes appear as flashing light or lightning streaks in the field of vision though light is not actually flashing. They are noticed most often at night or in a dark room. Flashes are caused by the vitreous gel tugging on the retina. As with floaters, flashes are usually a result of the aging process and do not indicate a serious vision problem. However, when they appear along with an increase of new floaters or with a partial loss in the field of vision, this may indicate a retinal tear or detachment requiring immediate medical attention. A new onset of floaters or flashes requires an urgent dilated retinal exam.
If you are experiencing a new onset of flashes or floaters, please call 770.979.2020 IMMEDIATELY. You need to be checked to be sure it is not a sign of a hole in the retina or a retinal detachment.