Floaters are flying dots or lines that you may sometimes see moving in your field of vision. They are usually degenerated clumps of vitreous gel within the inside cavity of your eye. Occasionally they are tiny clumps of cells inside the vitreous due to various disorders. While you may get the feeling that these spots or lines are in front of your eye, in reality they are actually floating inside it. These clumps cast shadows on the retina – the layer of cells lining the back of the eye that allows you to see – giving you the impression of floating particles in your vision.
Flashes are the sensation of flashing lights or lightning streaks that occur when the vitreous gel inside your eye pulls on the retina. They can be a small flash in just one spot, or it can be several flashes across a wider area of vision.
Vision with floaters
Vision with flashes
There is no known prevention for floaters and flashes which are usually quite harmless. Flashes usually diminish with time although the floaters may remain. It is therefore important to maintain good eye health and have your eyes checked regularly.
Floaters and flashes may occur at the same time due to the degeneration of the vitreous gel as you age. Eye injuries or excessive rubbing of the eyes can result in floaters as well. In the situation where the degenerated vitreous pulls away from the retina and tears it, bleeding into the eyeball cavity may occur and this can be perceived as new floaters. A torn retina (retina tear) may cause retinal detachment, a dangerous condition which can result in visual loss.
Floaters and flashes usually do not lead to serious complications. However, new floaters, flashes and visual field loss (dark shadow blocking a part of your vision), should be evaluated promptly by an ophthalmologist to exclude dangerous conditions such as retinal tears and retinal detachments, as these can damage vision. Timely treatment with a laser, or surgery in severe cases, can help to prevent blindness.
The most common cause of floaters and flashes due to vitreous gel degeneration does not require specific treatment. Although laser and vitrectomy surgery are possible, these procedures do not always remove all floaters, and have potential risks, and so are rarely performed. The effect of floaters can be minimised by wearing dark glasses when you are out in the bright sunlight or when you are looking at a brightly lit surface. Flashes usually disappear with time.
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