Flashes and Floaters
Floaters are easily identified by their ability to move within the field of vision. They can come in many shapes, including dots, lines and “cobwebs.” Eye floaters are seen best when looking at a blank background, and they may occur anywhere within the field of vision, including the central and peripheral vision. Though many mistake them for being objects on top of or in front of the eye, they are actually the result of an accumulation of cells within the eye.
Flashes are unlike floaters, in that they appear as rapid bursts of light. They may be more easily noticed in dim lighting. Both floaters and flashes may develop slowly due to age-related posterior vitreous detachment, or they may develop suddenly – potentially signifying a retinal tear.
Vitreous Detachment – A condition in which the vitreous gel retracts from the back of the eye. It is very common in individuals over age 40 and especially in those who are nearsighted, have undergone eye surgery or experienced an eye trauma.
Retinal Tear – A serious condition often caused when vitreous detachment results in a tear in a weakened retinal wall. Retinal tears have a high chance of leading to a complete retinal detachment if left untreated. Tears found early can be surgically treated to prevent detachment and total vision loss.
The only way of determining whether floaters are the evidence of a retinal tear or detachment is by visiting an ophthalmologist for an eye exam. Most floaters are not cause for alarm and will fade over time. But some – especially those that develop suddenly – could be a sign of future vision loss. It is important to visit an ophthalmologist at the first sign of an increase in floaters or the onset of sudden flashes of light.