Flashes and Floaters

What Are Floaters?

What Are Floaters?You may sometimes see small specks or clouds moving in your field of vision. They are called floaters. You can often see them when looking at a plain background, like a blank wall or blue sky. Floaters are actually tiny clumps of gel or cells inside the vitreous, the clear jelly-like fluid that fills the inside of your eye.

While these objects look like they are in front of your eye, they are actually floating within the vitreous gel inside of the eye. What you see are the shadows they cast on the retina, the nerve layer at the back of the eye that senses light and allows you to see.

Floaters can have different shapes: little dots, circles, lines, clouds or cobwebs.


What Causes Floaters?

When people reach middle age, the vitreous gel may start to thicken or shrink, forming clumps or strands inside the eye. The vitreous gel pulls away from the back wall of the eye, causing posterior vitreous detachment.

Posterior vitreous detachment is more common for people who:

  • are nearsighted
  • have undergone cataract operation
  • have had YAG laser surgery of the eye
  • have had inflammation inside the eye

The appearance of floaters may be alarming, especially if they develop suddenly. You should see a specialist at Hawaii Eye Institute immediately if you suddenly develop new floaters, experience flashes of light, and/or a loss of peripheral vision.


What Can Be Done About Floaters?

Schedule an appointment with Hawaii Eye Institute if you experience any of the symptoms mentioned above.

While some floaters may remain in your vision, many of them will fade over time and become less bothersome. Even if you have had some floaters for years, you should have an eye examination immediately if you notice new ones or experience vision changes.


What Causes Flashing Lights?

When the vitreous gel rubs or pulls on the retina, you may see what looks like flashing lights or lightening streaks. You may have experienced this same sensation if you have ever been hit in the eye and seen “stars.”

The flashes of light can appear off and on for several weeks or months. As we grow older, it is more common to experience flashes. If you notice a sudden appearance of light flashes, you should visit your ophthalmologist immediately to see if the retina has been torn.


Migraine

Some people experience flashes of light that appear as jagged lines or “heat waves” in both eyes, often lasting 10-20 minutes. These types of flashes are usually caused by a spasm of blood vessels in the brain, which is called a migraine.

If a headache follows the flashes, it is called a migraine headache. However, jagged lines or “heat waves” can occur without a headache. In this case, the light flashes are called ophthalmic migraines, or migraines without headache.


How Are Your Eyes Examined?

When a Hawaii Eye Institute specialist examines your eyes, your pupils will be dilated with eye drops. During this painless examination, your specialist will carefully observe your retina and vitreous. Because your eyes have been dilated, you may need to make arrangements for someone to drive you home afterwards.

Floaters and flashes of light become more common as we grow older. While not all floaters and flashes are serious, you should always have a medical eye examination by an ophthalmologist to make sure there has been no damage to your retina.

Contact us to setup a consultation at Hawaii Eye Institute today!

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