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Flashes and Floaters

What are Flashes and Floaters?

Flashes of light and floaters in the field of vision occur in healthy people, but may also be a sign of serious problems. If flashes occur suddenly, it may be a sign that the retina is torn. In this case, you should contact your doctor immediately.

Floaters, usually due to a posterior vitreous detachment, are caused by particles that are floating in the vitreous gel and cast shadows on the retina. Floaters may naturally appear with increasing age. However, if floaters occur suddenly, it may be a sign that the retina is torn. You should contact your doctor immediately if you experience such sudden symptoms.

Diagram explaining flashes and floaters in the eye

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Frequently Asked Questions About Eye Floaters:

Eye floaters are dark spots or strands that drift through your field of vision. They are primarily caused by age-related changes. You may only notice floaters when staring at light-colored surfaces, such as white paper, your computer screen, or the blue sky. Eye floaters tend to move as you move your eyes, and appear to zoom away when try to look directly at them.

Floaters are usually small, but in some cases, people experience large floaters that disrupt their vision. If you find that floaters are clouding your vision or negatively impacting your quality of life, you should consult your eye doctor.

Eye floaters are caused by age-related changes that almost everyone will experience by age 70. As we age, the gel-like substance in your eye (vitreous) becomes a thinner liquid. As this occurs, fibers in your eyes can collapse and stick together to form clumps and knots, like when you forget to stir a pot of cooking spaghetti. These clumps can cast shadows on the retina and appear as spots, strings, or cobwebs that are commonly referred to as “floaters”.

Eye floaters can be distracting, but over time they tend to “settle” below the line of sight, eventually becoming less bothersome. However, in some cases, people can develop large floaters that negatively impact their quality of life and that interfere with everyday tasks like driving and reading.

Sometimes, eye floaters can become so large or dense that they cause a significant disruption in vision. When this occurs, there are three different ways to treat eye floaters.

  1. Do Nothing: Traditionally, doctors have suggested “learning to live” with eye floaters. Sometimes, patients find that they gradually adjust to the presence of their eye floaters. For patients who find that their floaters aren’t negatively impacting their quality of life, doing nothing may be the best option.
  2. Vitrectomy: A vitrectomy is a surgical option for floater removal. It involves a surgical incision to remove part of the vitreous, the gel-like substance in the eye. Due to advances in medical technology, this procedure has become safer and over time. However, like any invasive surgery, a vitrectomy carries the risk of infection and can also result in the formation of cataracts. For some types of floaters, a vitrectomy may be the only surgical option available for treatment.
  3.  Laser Floater Treatment/ Laser Vitreolysis: A third option is Laser Vitreolysis, also referred to as Laser Floater Treatment (LFT). This treatment option consists of an extremely precise laser that safely vaporizes eye floaters and breaks apart large floaters into smaller, less noticeable pieces. For more information, visit this online resource for helpful information about LFT.
Vision with eye floaters

Eye floaters can look like shadowy-like cobwebs or specks that float in your field of vision. They can appear as squiggly, curved, or straight lines. Others have described them as “clouds,” or “o” or “c” figures. What you’re seeing isn’t the floater itself, but a shadow that is being cast on the retina.

Not everyone experiences eye floaters the same way. Some people experience a few eye floaters that are hardly noticeable, while others see a large, dense floater that can obstruct their vision or negatively impact their quality of life.

Eye floaters are common and generally harmless. The only time eye floaters become “dangerous” is if they become so dense that the restrict your field of vision. In that case, your doctor may recommend surgery or a laser treatment option to eliminate your eye floaters.

However, if you experience a sudden increase in the number of eye floaters that you see or floaters that are accompanied by flashes of light, this could signal a condition that could lead to vision loss. If you have experienced either of these symptoms, you should consult your doctor immediately.