Flashes and Floaters
A Harmless Annoyance or a Serious Symptom?
Have you ever noticed strange little shapes "floating" across your field of vision, or flashes that resemble lightning streaks? If so, then you're one of a majority of people who experience floaters and flashes.
These visual quirks are normal and do not usually indicate a serious problem. However, a sudden increase in the number or intensity of flashes and floaters could mean you’re suffering from an eye disorder, like retinal detachment. Highly-trained retina specialist Sean C. Lalin can determine the cause and possible implications of your flashes and floaters at our Morristown office. Contact us today to learn more during an appointment at our practice.
What Causes Eye Floaters?
To understand why we experience floaters, we must first look at the basic structure of the eye. Between the lens at front of the eye and the retina at the back is vitreous, a gelatinous fluid that fills the eyeball. Vitreous helps maintain the taut structure of the eye and is comprised of water, proteins, collagen, and other molecules. When we look at something like the daytime sky, the light travels into the lens and through the vitreous to reach the retina. Objects caught between the light source and the retina (like proteins and other molecules floating in the vitreous) cast a shadow on the retina. This is why floaters usually appear light gray and form consistent shapes, like cobwebs, circles, or lines. And because they are suspended in fluid, the floaters appear to move.
What Causes Eye Flashes?
Clinically referred to as "photopsia," flashes of light in the eye may be caused by a number of contributing factors. Often, flashes are the result of blood vessel spasms in the brain. People who suffer from migraines describe jagged lines or sparkles of light that occur in waves at the periphery of their vision during a migraine. In some instances, a person can have an ophthalmic migraine in which migraine-like light flashes occur, but the person does not experience a headache. People who have suffered a head injury often report "seeing stars," a phenomenon similar to flashes. In some cases, flashes can indicate a problem within the eyes.
When Should You Seek Help for Flashes and Floaters?
If you experience eye flashes, you should let your doctor know when they occur. Although they may not indicate a problem, flashes are often a key symptom of a serious problem like posterior vitreous detachment, a common precursor to retinal detachment. As we age, the vitreous fluid within our eyes can shrink. As shrinking vitreous tugs on the retina, it creates small tears that result in light flashes. Seeking early treatment for eye flashes can help diagnose any potential problems before they progress further, and greatly increase your chances of a successful recovery.
For the most part, eye floaters are an innocuous side effect of the eye’s basic construction. However, you should seek the help of an eye specialist if you experience:
- A sudden increase in the number of floaters you see.
- A sudden increase in the size of floaters.
- Floaters that look different than usual, like tiny black dots that resemble wisps of smoke.
If these symptoms are accompanied by sudden blurred vision, a reduction in vision, or something resembling a shadow or veil in your peripheral vision, contact Dr. Lalin immediately.
What are My Treatment Options?
The most common treatment for regular eye floaters is to simply observe them and do nothing. Most people who experience floaters have learned to “tune them out,” and since they normally do not indicate a problem, they do not require treatment. However, if you have floaters that disrupt your ability to carry out daily activities, a laser treatment or a vitrectomy procedure can effectively address the problem.
Eye floaters and occasional flashes happen frequently to most people and are usually harmless. However, a sudden increase in eye floaters and flashes could indicate a serious problem. To discuss your symptoms with Dr. Lalin, schedule an appointment by contacting our practice today.