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Flashes and FloatersRead below to learn more about what floaters and flashes of light are, what may be causing them, and what the treatment may involve.


What are floaters?

Floaters are the small specks or  clouds you may sometimes see moving in your field of vision. You can  often see them when looking at a plain background, like a blank wall  or blue sky. Floaters are actually tiny clumps of gel or cells  inside the vitreous, the clear jelly-like fluid that fills the  inside of your eye.

While these objects look like they are in front of your eye, they  are actually floating inside. What you see are the shadows they cast  on the retina, the nerve layer at the back of the eye that senses  light and allows you to see.

Floaters can have different shapes: little dots, circles, lines,  clouds or cobwebs.

What causes floaters?

When people reach middle age,  the vitreous gel may start to thicken or shrink, forming clumps or  strands inside the eye. The vitreous gel pulls away from the back  wall of the eye, causing a posterior vitreous detachment. It is a  common cause of floaters.

Posterior vitreous detachment is more common for people who

  • are nearsighted;
  • have undergone cataract operations;
  • have had YAG laser surgery of the eye;
  • have had inflammation inside the eye.

The appearance  of floaters may be alarming, especially if they develop suddenly.  You should see an ophthalmologist immediately if you suddenly  develop new floaters, especially if you are over 45 years old.

Are floaters ever serious?

The retina can tear if the  shrinking vitreous gel pulls away from the wall of the eye. This  sometimes causes a small amount of bleeding in the eye that may  appear as new floaters. A torn retina is always a serious problem,  since it can lead to a retinal detachment. Seek medical attention as  soon as possible if:

  • even one new floaters appears suddenly;
  • you see sudden flashes of light.

If you notice other  symptoms like the loss of side vision, return to your ophthalmologist.

What can be done about floaters?

Floaters can get in  the way of clear vision, which may be quite annoying especially if  you are trying to read. You can try moving your eyes, looking up and  then down to move the floaters out of the way. While some floaters  may remain in your vision, many of them will fade over time and  become less bothersome. Even if you have had some floaters for  years, you should have an eye examination immediately if you notice  new ones.

Flashing Lights

What causes flashing lights?

When the vitreous gel  rubs or pulls on the retina, you may see what look like flashing  lights or lightning streaks. You may have experienced this same  sensation if you have ever been hit in the eye and seen “stars.”

The flashes of light can appear off and on for several weeks or  months. As we grow older, it is more common to experience flashes.  If you notice the sudden appearance of light flashes, you should  visit your ophthalmologist immediately to see if the retina is torn.
Flashes and migraine

Some people experience flashes  of light that appear as jagged lines or “heat waves” in both eyes,  often lasting 10-20 minutes. These types of flashes are usually  caused by a spasm of blood vessels in the brain, which is called  migraine. If a headache follows the flashes, it is called a migraine headache. However, jagged lines or “heat waves” can occur without a  headache. In this case, the light flashes are called ophthalmic migraine, or migraine without headache.

Floaters and flashes of light become more common as we grow older. While not all floaters and flashes are serious, you should  always have a medical eye exam by an ophthalmologist to make sure  there has been no damage to your retina.

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