If you’ve ever had dots, specks or lightening-type streaks appear in your vision, you’ve likely experienced floaters or flashes. Distracting at best and blinding at worst, floaters and flashes can range from a harmless sign of aging to a warning that something more sinister is happening. In most cases, these occurrences resolve on their own. However, in some instances – where there is a more serious risk to your vision – you may require treatment.
Not sure if you’re at risk? We’ve got you covered with a quick rundown of floaters, flashes, warning signs, and treatment options.
What is a Floater?
Floaters can appear as dots, lines, cobwebs, specks, or circles in your vision, and in most cases aren’t serious. Floaters arise in the part of the eye called the vitreous – a jelly-like tissue that takes up the rear two-thirds of the eyeball.
As we grow older, our vitreous tends to liquefy, shrink, thicken, and develop clumps or strands. These clumps can cast shadows on the retina, which are the specks or dots you see, seemingly at the front of your vision. Eventually, the vitreous pulls away from the back wall of our eye, and this is known as a ‘posterior vitreous detachment’. People most likely to develop floaters are those who have had surgery or inflammation of the eye, people with diabetes, older people, and those who are short-sighted (myopic).
What are Flashes?
Ever felt like you were seeing stars? Or lightning streaks kept interfering with your vision? These are flashes. When your vitreous either pulls, bumps or rubs on your retina, it causes sparks or veins of light that flicker across your line of sight. Remember the vitreous? Well, as well as keeping the eye inflated, it plays an important role in the eye, carrying oxygen and nutrients, and directing light which enters through the lens onto the retina or ‘camera film’ of the eye. If you’re seeing flashes, it’s definitely worth looking into as soon as possible.
Should you be concerned about Flashes or Floaters?
Floaters and flashes can sometimes be a warning sign that something is wrong, particularly if they are frequent, severe, or recurring over long periods. A posterior vitreous detachment is a normal part of the aging process, so it’s unlikely you’ll be able to prevent it from happening. But never fear, only about 5% of people who experience floaters and flashes end up needing treatment. In these cases, the symptoms are usually associated with a retinal tear, which can turn into a retinal detachment with the potential to cause significant permanent damage to your sight.
A retinal tear can lead to fluid from the vitreous seeping through and separating the retina from the underlying tissues that nourish it. Because the retina is made up of millions of nerve cells, it doesn’t survive long when starved of oxygen and nutrients. To avoid a retinal detachment, always seek help from an eye health professional for an eye exam as early as possible.
You should contact an ophthalmologist immediately if:
- You start to see a lot of new floaters
- Flashes are appearing frequently in your vision
- A shadow appears in your peripheral vision
- Your central vision begins to rapidly decline
- Some of your vision becomes covered by what appears to be a curtain
Prevention and treatment of Flashes & Floaters
Floaters and flashes are more common with age; a result of the vitreous shrinking in size and pulling on the retina. Floaters in particular may be annoying, but in most cases are harmless, and with time usually decrease in size and become less bothersome. A retinal tear on the other hand is far more serious. However provided the tear is identified early, treatment with a retinal laser can resolve the issue and prevent the retina from detaching.
KindSIGHT offers patients treatment for retinal tears using a state of the art retinal laser. Through a quick, relatively pain-free process pinpoints of laser light fuse the retina surrounding the tear to the back wall of the eye, creating a barrier and preventing more of the retina detaching.
So, if you’re worried about the floaters or flashes in your eye, get an eye check sooner rather than later to rule out a retinal tear and get peace of mind. By coming directly to an ophthalmologist at KindSIGHT, you can receive same-day treatment with retinal laser via a quick, in-room procedure.