WHAT ARE FLOATERS?

Floaters can look like small specks, dots, circles, semicircles, lines or cobwebs in your vision. They are often described as being similar to seeing flies or gnats. While they seem to be in front of the vision, they are actually floating inside the eye. Floaters are tiny clumps of protein or cells inside the vitreous that fills your eye.

You may notice floaters more when outside during the day, against a blue sky or white clouds, or indoors against a white background like a piece of paper or computer screen.  You may notice them less at night or in a darker room.

Floaters can be part of a normal aging process such as a posterior vitreous detachment or it can sometimes be an indication of infection of inflammation in the eye

Risk factors for floaters include:

  • Age 45 or older

  • Being nearsighted (you need glasses to see far away)

  • After cataract surgery

  • After trauma

  • Inflammation in the eye

WHAT ARE FLASHES?

Flashes can look like flashing lights or lightning streaks in the vision.

Flashes can occur in one eye or both eyes.  Flashes that happen at the same time as floaters can be a symptom of a posterior vitreous detachment and even a retinal tear

An appointment should be made for an dilated eye exam if you notice flashing lights and floaters.  If there is loss of vision either in your central vision or in the peripheral vision then that is an emergency and you should be seen immediately.  

WHAT IS POSTERIOR VITREOUS DETACHMENT?

As everyone ages, the vitreous begins to shrink and separate from the retina.  This can lead clumps or strands form in the vitreous which becomes floaters.  When the vitreous pulls away from the back of the eye, it is called posterior vitreous detachment. Floaters usually happen with posterior vitreous detachment.

The majority of the time a vitreous detachment occurs without complication.  However between 8-26% of patients who complain about floaters associated with a posterior vitreous detachment are found to have a retinal tear on examination.  

Retinal tears are a serious condition that may require treatment with laser to prevent the tear from becoming a retinal detachment which can lead to permanent vision loss and even blindness.

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