Flashes and Floaters
What are floaters?
Floaters appear as black spots or something that looks like a hair or small pieces of a cobweb. These can be semi-transparent or dark and appear to float in front of your vision. If you have had these for years, your eye and your brain learn to ignore them. Sometimes the number of floaters increases as you get older. Occasionally an increase in floaters can be a sign of problems inside the eye.
Because they ‘float’ in the jelly of your eye, you will find that if you move your eye to try to look at a floater, it will move away in the direction you move your eye. You might only see the floater if you are staring at a light coloured surface, or at the sky during the day. Some people find that floaters can be a nuisance, but most people become used to them. They rarely cause problems with your vision.
What are flashes?
When we are young, the vitreous gel is firmly attached to the back of our eye. As we get older, the vitreous gel naturally becomes more liquid and collapses away from the retina. This is called a posterior vitreous detachment (PVD). It is very common and more likely to happen as you get older. If you get a PVD you may see flashes of light in front of one of your eyes, like small sparkles, lightning or fireworks. These tend to be in the extreme corners of your vision and come and go but don’t obscure any part of your vision. The flashes don’t last for a set length of time, and you may notice them more if you go from a light to dark environment. They may continue on and off for weeks or months.
These are different to the shimmering or zig-zag lines that may be part of a migraine. Migraine shimmers are a flickering of light, often on only one side of your vision, which then expands to the outside of your vision with a sort of jagged pattern. This will often obscure at least part of your vision (the left or right side). The shimmers usually go away after 10 to 20 minutes and may be followed by a headache. Although some people may get migraine shimmers even if they do not have a headache afterwards. Flashes can also occur if you are hit in your eye.
Why do floaters occur?
Some people are born with floaters. Other floaters occur as you get older when the gel in your eye, the vitreous humour, naturally shrinks. The gel separates into watery fluid and wavy collagen fibrils. The fibrils are seen as line-shaped floaters. Sometimes the gel shrinks enough to collapse away from the light-sensitive lining at the back of your eye, which is called the retina. Once the gel has collapsed, some people see a large ring-shaped floater. The collapse of the vitreous gel can pull on your retina. If this happens you would see this as a flash of light. Floaters can also be caused by some eye diseases that cause inflammation. This is not very common.
Who is at risk of flashes and floaters?
Floaters are more common in people who are short-sighted. They may increase if you have had an eye operation such as cataract surgery, or laser treatment after cataract surgery. Those individuals at risk of flashes are also at risk of retinal detachment. They tend to be people who had had eye surgery or trauma to the eye, moderately short sighted, family history or previous retinal detachment and certain eye diseases or retinal degeneration.
What should I do if I get recent onset flashes and floaters?
Most of the time floaters are harmless. Sometimes they may be annoying, but treatment is not advised. Flashes may simply be a tug of the retina (traction). You should however consult with your Optometrist if you notice any recent flashing lights in your vision or new floaters (either one or more large ones or a shower of tiny ones). If you are unable to present to your Optometrist then urgent attention is needed by your GP (some GP’s may advise going straight to A&E if an Optometrist is not available ) or local hospital by presenting to A&E.
What is the best way to assess my eyes if I have flashes and floaters?
Focus Medical Eye Centre continue to invest in the latest technology. We are able to offer Optomap imaging of the eye which is the best way to investigate recent onset flashes and floaters. The laser scanning technology can image over 82% of you retina which makes detecting tears or detachments must easier compared to 15-20% with standard imaging cameras.
Please call us today on 01323 442062 and ask a member of our team for more details.