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Flashes and Floaters: What You Need to Know

Flashes and floaters are the specks, squiggles or bright spots that periodically may appear in your field of vision. Flashers and floaters are quite common, typically harmless and often come and go quickly. They can occur at any age. While most are harmless, they can be a warning sign that there are larger concerns in your eye health. Consult a doctor if flashers and/or floaters suddenly appear or become more plentiful. 

What Are Flashes and Floaters?

Flashes may look like flashes of lights, lighting streaks, stars or small sparkles. Flashes occur when the vitreous gel inside the eye rubs or pulls on the retina. Flashes become more common as people age. Flashes might occur for weeks or even months. Some people experience light flashes that look like jagged lines and can occur in one or both eyes. These bouts of flashes may last for up to 20 minutes at a time, and may be related to migraine as migraines are spasms of blood vessels in the brain. Experiencing flashes with a concurrent headache is called a “migraine headache” but experiencing flashes without the head pain is called a “ophthalmic migraine” or “migraine without headache.”

Floaters also exist in your field of vision and can look like small dots, circles, lines, specks or cobwebs. They may look like they exist in front of you, but really are floating inside your eye. Floaters exist inside the jelly-like substance that fills your eye and are made up of tiny clumps of gel or cells. What you perceive as something floating in your line of vision are really the shadows these clumps cast upon your retina. 

What Are the Symptoms, Causes & Risk Factors of Flashes and Floaters?

Flashes and floaters both result from changes in the vitreous, or gel, that fills most of the eye. As part of the normal aging process, the vitreous gets more watery and starts to separate from the retina or back of the eye. After separating, this vitreous can move forward, floating in the middle of the eyeball which you perceive as a floater. This process is called vitreous detachment and is common after age 55. 

Occasionally flashes may occur in your peripheral, or side, vision. This is a result of the retina being pulled at or torn by the separating vitreous. If a tear forms in the retina, it can lead to retinal detachment and a severe loss of vision.

Symptoms of flashes and floaters include experiencing:

  • Spots that look like tiny bugs, threads or cobwebs
  • Spots that usually shift away from your focus when you try to look at them
  • Spots that are most noticeable in bright light
  • Flashing lights that occur when eyes are either open or closed. These may be more noticeable in dim light or when moving the eye

What to Expect from Diagnosis and Screening for Flashes and Floaters

Flashes and floaters are diagnosed by an eye care specialist who may put eye drops in your eyes to dilate them, and will then examine your eyes using a tool called an ophthalmoscope. This tool has a light at the end to enable your eye care specialist to examine your retina for any possible tears or detachments. 

What Are the Medications and Treatments for Flashes and Floaters?

Treatment is unnecessary for most floaters. Occasionally, floaters can be evidence of a tear in the retina. In this case, treatment is necessary so that fluid does not leak through the tear causing the retina to detach. If retinal detachment does occur, surgery may be necessary. If you suddenly experience a steep increase in the number of flashes or floaters, lose peripheral vision, or have blurred or distorted vision, these can be warning signs of a retinal tear or detachment. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, call your health care professional immediately. 

How Tucker & Associates Can Help

If you are experiencing flashes or floaters that are interfering with your quality of life or you have a sudden increase in the number of flashes or floaters, call Tucker & Associates today. We can schedule an appointment with one of our experienced eye care professionals to help evaluate your flashes and floaters and design the best treatment plan for your eye care needs. 

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