Flashes & Floaters
Flashes and floaters can be alarming. Usually, however, an eye examination will confirm that they are harmless and do not require any treatment.
- Seeing small, floating spots
- Seeing bright flashes of light
Most flashes and floaters are caused by age-related changes in the gel-like material, called vitreous, that fills the back of the eye.
As you get older, the vitreous gradually becomes thinner or more watery. By the time you are in your twenties or thirties, the vitreous may be watery enough to allow some of the clumps and strands to move around inside the eye. This material floating inside the eye can cast shadows on the retina, which you see as small floating spots.
Sometime after about age 55, you may experience the onset of larger, more bothersome floaters or flashes of light. By this age, the vitreous gel has usually become much more watery. It jiggles around quite a bit when you move your eye, making flashes and floaters much more common. Eventually, the aging vitreous can pull away from the retina and shrink into a dense mass of gel in the middle of the eyeball. Shadows cast onto the retina by the detached vitreous can cause you to see large floaters.
Who is at risk?
Flashes and floaters are very common. Almost everyone experiences them at one time or another. They become more frequent as we age. In rare cases, an exam may reveal a more serious problem called a retinal tear or retinal hole, so it’s important to get regular eye exams and inform your doctor if you’re experiencing flashes or floaters.
Your doctor will use special instruments to look into your eyes and distinguish between harmless floaters and flashes and more serious retinal problems such as holes, tears or detachment. The usual symptoms of these more serious problems include seeing hundreds of small floating spots, persistent flashing lights, or a veil-like blockage of a portion of the vision. If you experience any of these, you should contact our office immediately at 866-340-EYES.
While the floater cannot be eliminated through surgery, laser treatment or medication it will become less noticeable as the brain adjusts to its presence. If you do experience the the sudden onset of a new floater or flashes, you should schedule a complete eye exam immediately to ensure it is not a symptom of something more serious.