Floaters look like small specks of dust, dots, circles, lines or cobwebs in your field of vision. While they seem to be like flies or mosquitos in front of your eye, they are actually debris from the vitreous gel floating inside. The clumps of debris cast a shadow on your retina resulting in floaters.
Flashes look like flashing lights, stars, or streaks of lightning in your field of vision. Flashes can occur on and off for weeks, or even months. Flashes happen when the vitreous rubs or pulls on your retina.
As people age, it is common to see flashes occasionally.
With increasing age, our vitreous gel liquefies and shrinks, often forming clumps or strands in the vitreous. When the vitreous gel pulls away from the back surface of the eye, it is called posterior vitreous detachment. Floaters often accompany a posterior vitreous detachment.
Floaters themselves are not serious, and tend to fade over time and most of the time our brain gets used to them. They seldom need treatment or surgery. However, floaters can be an accompanying symptom of a vitreous detachment, retinal tear, or retinal detachment.
Floaters are more common with several eye conditions:
However, they can sometimes be a sign of a serious condition, especially if they are new or more frequent.
The following features are concerning and warrant an exam with an ophthalmologist:
Flashes and floaters can be symptoms of a retinal tear or retinal detachment. These conditions can be serious and warrant immediate evaluation.
These flashes tend to appear different from typical flashes.
They tend to look like jagged lines or heat waves.
Flashes can last for longer times and may be caused by a migraine. A migraine is a type of headache caused by a blood vessel spasm in the brain.
Occasionally, the flashes are not accompanied by a typical headache. This is called aura, ophthalmic migraine, or migraine without headache.
They tend to move and float around as you move your eye.
Floaters are caused by the shadow of clumps of vitreous gel in your eye. Flashes look like lightning streaks in your field of vision and occur when the vitreous gel pulls on the retina.
Floaters and flashes are extremely common with increasing age. However, sometimes these symptoms can be associated with serious conditions such as a retinal detachment or retinal tear.
Sudden onset of new or increased floaters or flashes require a call to your ophthalmologist right away.
Retina: Layer of nerve cells lining the back wall inside the eye. This layer senses light and sends signals to the brain so you can see.
Macula: Small but important area in the center of the retina. You need the macula to clearly see details of objects in front of you.
Vitreous: Clear, gel-like substance that fills the inside of your eye. The vitreous helps the eye maintain its shape and also transmits light to the retina.
Make sure blood sugar is under control for at least a week before an eye exam
and your blood sugar levels are stable.
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