Have you ever spotted a small speck, dot or squiggle floating in the air, only to have it flit away when you tried to look at it directly? Or have you noticed flickering lights or lightning streaks that you knew weren’t really there? If so, you are one of many people who have experienced the common vision phenomenon known as floaters and flashes.
What Are Floaters and Flashes?
Floaters are small specks like clouds moving in your field of vision. You may see them more clearly when looking at a plain background such as a blank wall. Floaters are actually tiny clumps of gel or cells inside the vitreous, the clear jelly-like fluid that fills the inside of your eye. Floaters can have different shapes such as little dots, circles, lines, clouds or cobwebs.
Though these objects look like they are in front of your eye, they are actually floating inside of it. 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.
When people reach middle age the vitreous gel may start to thicken or shrink, forming clumps or strands inside the eye. Floaters often occur when the vitreous gel pulls away from the back wall of the eye, causing a posterior vitreous detachment. In some cases the retina can tear as the shrinking vitreous gel pulls away from the wall of the eye. A torn retina is always a serious problem since it can lead to a retinal detachment.
When the vitreous gel inside your eye rubs or pulls on the retina, you may see what looks like flashing lights or lightning streaks. You may have experienced this sensation if you have ever been hit in the eye and seen stars.
These flashes of light can appear off and on for several weeks or months. As we grow older, it is more common to experience flashes.
Tests and Diagnosis
Most causes of floaters and flashes can be determined through a thorough vision exam in Medford by one of our doctors. If the cause of the symptoms is not seen during your exam, your doctor may order additional testing such as an ultrasound of the eye.
The treatment for floaters and flashes depends on the underlying condition. While not all floaters and flashes are serious, you should always have a medical eye examination by an ophthalmologist to make sure there has been no damage to your retina.
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.
There is no specific treatment for separation of the vitreous gel from the retina although laser or freezing therapy or surgery may be required for retinal tears.
For more information about floaters and flashes or to schedule your eye exam, contact Medical Eye Center at 541-779-4711 or medicaleyecenter.com.