What are Flashes and Floaters?
Flashes and floaters are linked to age-related changes to the substance filling the center of the eye — the vitreous. When we are young, the vitreous has a jelly-like consistency. As we get older, the vitreous breaks down, shrinking and liquifying. This usually starts happening somewhere between the ages of 40 and 60.
Clumps or strands of vitreous can float around in the liquid portions of the vitreous, casting shadows onto the retina. These shadows, which appear as spots, specks, strands or clouds in your visual field, are referred to as “floaters.”
Until it starts breaking down, the vitreous lies in contact with the lining of the eye, called the retina. Sometimes the vitreous remains attached to certain parts of the retina and tugs or pulls on the retina as it shrinks. During this process it may produce a break or tear in the retina. When this happens, it can cause flashing or flickering lights (“flashes”) to appear in your vision.
Flashes and Floater Symptoms
Floaters are very normal and are usually harmless. However, if you notice any of the following symptoms, you should get your eyes checked by one of the doctors at Berks Eye Physicians & Surgeons:
- A dramatic increase or “shower” of floaters
- Sudden persistent flashes
- Flashes accompanied by a decline in peripheral vision
- What appears to be a “curtain” being drawn over your visual field
Flashes and Floater Risk Factors
Age is the biggest risk factor for floaters and flashes because of the changes in consistency that naturally occur in the vitreous as we get older. Other risk factors include:
- Severe nearsightedness
- Uveitis – inflammation in the eye
- History of eye surgery
It is virtually impossible to prevent floaters and flashes. We can, however, prevent some of the complications that can occur after you have these symptoms. If you are experiencing concerning symptoms, seeing us promptly for an evaluation may prevent minor problems from progressing and causing major complications.
For instance, if you have a break or tear in your retina, fluid can pass through and get under the retina. At that point, the retina could separate or peel away from its normal position. This is called a retinal detachment. Retinal detachment is very serious, and if left untreated, can cause irreversible vision loss. Catching floaters or flashes early can reduce the risk of retinal detachment and the associated problems.
A dilated eye exam is required to evaluate floaters and flashes. Our doctors will also inquire about when you first noticed the floaters and/or flashes and whether you are experiencing any other visual symptoms.
Flashes and Floater Treatment
Most floaters do not require treatment. They usually improve with observation. However, if needed, there is a surgical procedure called vitrectomy, which entails removing the natural vitreous and replacing it with a clear fluid. Our doctors can help you weigh the risks of this procedure against the potential benefits.
Whatever treatment is ultimately needed, our retinal specialist, Dr. Guri Bronner, can perform a complete evaluation and advise of the best treatment for your individual circumstances.
Get More Information about Flashes and Floaters
If you experience any unusual visual symptoms, including flashes or floaters, it is a good idea to schedule an eye evaluation with the Berks Eye Physicians & Surgeons team. We can confirm or rule out problems affecting the health of your retina. Call or email us today to request an appointment.