EYE FLOATERS & FLASHEScauses, symptoms and treatments

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Last updated 8/9/2019
What eye floaters look like

What are eye floaters?

Floaters are small spots, lines, circles, or cobwebs and strands that appear spontaneously and seem to be floating in your line of sight.

 

They are most noticeable in bright light, outside, or when looking at a light wall, ceiling, or piece of paper. They seem to float away if you try to focus on them.

 

Most commonly they are quite harmless natural particles inside the eye. In fact, 70% of people experience floaters at some time.

What are eye flashes?

Eye floaters, Assil Eye Institute

Flashes occur when the gel-like fluid (vitreous) inside the eye begins to pull away from the retina and, in doing so, causes the brain to perceive small bursts or flashes of light as it tugs on the retina. 

 

They are momentary and last only a few seconds, and are most noticeable in dim light or on eye movement. Most commonly, this is a transient symptom of a natural process called Posterior Vitreous Detachment (PVD) – or gradual separation of the vitreous gel away from the retina.

 

This process occurs in every eye and is a normal part of the life cycle of each eye. Flashes associated with a PVD gradually decrease and disappear over several weeks.

 

What causes eye floaters?

The inside of the eye is filled with a gel-like substance called “vitreous”. It looks a lot like egg white. In a newborn baby it is quite thick and viscous. As we go through life, this gel-like substance begins to thin and gradually turn into water.

 

The natural proteins and particles that are contained in it begin to form clumps and start moving more freely inside the eye. These particles cast a shadow on our retina, the inner lining of the back of the eye where visual stimuli are sent to the brain for interpretation.

 

These shadows are interpreted as floating specks or lines. These tend to become quite noticeable in our 20’s and gradually increase overtime.

 

You are more likely to have floaters if you are:

  •  Nearsighted (cannot see far)
  • After cataract surgery
  • if you had trauma of the eye
  • Have diabetes

 

How to get rid of eye floaters

Sometimes, floaters can become so numerous and bothersome that they affect your ability to perform tasks requiring fine focus and concentration, such as reading or driving.

 

Until recently, the treatment of debilitating floaters has been to perform a procedure known as a Vitrectomy. This involves carefully draining the intraocular fluid from your eye, and taking the floater debris with it, prior to refilling your eye with saline in order to allow the eye to retain its round shape.

 

Unfortunately, there´s a small risk of infection, early cataract formation and retinal detachment following vitrectomies.

 

 

Eye floater laser treatment

A laser treatment option for floaters has become popular in recent years, however, it remains an off-label procedure without FDA approval. Under certain circumstances, your doctor might recommend eliminating large floaters by performing a YAG vitreolysis procedure.

 

The YAG vitreolysis procedure involves using a low energy laser to break up the floaters into tiny fragments so that they barely cast a shadow on your retina and you are therefore unable to make out the floating spots.

 

 

When to see a doctor for floaters or flashes

When floaters and flashes first appear, it is important to have an eye exam to ensure they are not caused by a serious eye illness. You should contact an eye specialist immediately if you notice:

  • Many more floaters than usual
  • A sudden onset of new floaters
  • Flashes of light suddenly occurring in the same eye as the floaters
  • Darkness suddenly appearing on the sides of your vision (a sensation of fixed shadow, or “closing curtain”)

  

These painless symptoms could be signs of a retinal detachment or tear — a sight-threatening condition that requires immediate attention. Prompt evaluation within first 24-48 hours is crucial to maintaining or recovering your full visual potential if a serious problem is, indeed, present.

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