Flashes & Floaters
A common concern requiring ophthalmic evaluation is the new onset of floaters and/or flashes. Any object within the vitreous cavity that moves can cast a shadow on the retina, which is construed as a “floater.” Depending on the size of the object and the distance from the retina, floaters can have vastly different presentations. The accompanying flashes of light are often an indication that the vitreous gel is tugging on the retina. It is of paramount importance that each case of new floaters or light flashes be evaluated at its onset to rule out a retinal tear or detachment.
Experiencing an occasional “floater” — a cobweb or cloudy-like shadow floating around in your visual field — is not uncommon. Most people experience these visual disturbances at some point in their lifetime.
A sudden increase in eye floaters, especially those accompanied by flashes of light or a loss of peripheral vision, could indicate an eye emergency. Changes in your current floaters are concerning. If you experience these symptoms, you should contact the office.
What Are Floaters?
Floaters occur due to changes in the vitreous humor, the substance that fills the center of your eye. When we are young, the vitreous is similar to a gel and is anchored to the retina; with age, the vitreous gradually liquifies and the retina anchoring detaches. The vitreous gel folds and creates an opaque spot floating around in the remaining vitreous. What you actually see is not the vitreous fold itself but the shadows it casts onto your retina, the light-sensitive tissue that lines the back of your eye. That’s why floaters are worse in bright light.
“I always see my floaters most clearly at the beach.”
Symptoms of Floaters
Floaters may look like specks, strings, cobwebs or other shapes. They are usually most pronounced when looking at a plain, light background (like a sky or computer screen). Floaters appear as though they are drifting in front of your eyes and will usually float away if you try to focus on them directly.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are floaters harmful?
Usually not. New floaters need to be evaluated. If no retinal tear, detachment, or hemorrhage is present, floaters tend to be a nuisance, but improve with time.
Will my floaters go away on their own?
Most floaters resolve or shrink spontaneously. New floaters usually shrink or resolve over weeks to several months. Contact the office for worsening or significant persistence. Rarely, floaters can be treated by a retina specialist after a long period of observation.