Flashes and Floaters
View: Flashes and Floaters
What are floaters?
Floaters are sometimes seen as small dark clumps, specks or whispy clouds. You can better see them when looking at a plain background, like a white wall, the blue sky, or the liner of a swimming pool while swimming under water with goggles. While these objects appear in front of your eye, they are actually floating inside it. They are caused by tiny clumps within the vitreous, the transparent, gel-like fluid that fills the back of the eye. What you “see” are the shadows they cast as they move in front of the light entering the eye on its way to the retina, the layer of cells lining the back of the eye that senses light. Once they drift out of the light path, the shadows they cast on the retina subside. Floaters can appear as different shapes, such as little dots, circles, lines, clouds or cobwebs.
What are flashes?
The main component of vitreous is hyaluronic acid. When we are young, the vitreous has the consistency of jello and has adhesion to the peripheral retina. As we mature, it gradually liquifies becoming more like jello left out at room temperature. When this occurs, the vitreous body collapses, causing tension from vitreous strands still tethered to the peripheral retina. As the eye moves back and forth, the loosened vitreous strands alternately tugs on the retina “stimulating” it causing you to “see” a transient flashing light(s) or lightning streaks. These are called flashes. Typically, as the vitreous strands completely separate from the retina, symptoms subside. Until then, the flashes of light can appear off and on for several weeks or months. Rarely, the vitreous strands remains attached and this repetitive tension on the same spot on the retina causes a localized tear that may lead to a retinal detachment. You may have experienced this same sensation if you have ever been hit in the eye and seen “stars.”
Contact us if you develop these symptoms. It is important to have a thorough dilated eye examination.