18 May Understanding Flashers and Floaters
Was that just a speck of dirt or a gnat that floated by your eye? More likely, it was a “floater.” Floaters are caused by small liquid clumps inside your vitreous, a jelly-like substance that fills your eye. While they look like spots, strings, or flecks floating by, they’re actually shadows cast by these clumps inside your eye.
In some cases, floaters are accompanied by quick flashes of light, sort of like shooting stars. These flashes occur when the gel substance in your eye pulls or rubs on your retina. Flashers can also occur without floaters.
Flashers and floaters are mostly benign and aren’t typically a cause for concern. In some cases, however, these mostly minor sight nuisances can be an indication of a more serious condition called retinal detachment.
The eye care professionals at the Witlin Center for Advanced Eye Care in East Brunswick, Toms River, & Morristown, New Jersey, offer the following information to help you make sense of flashers and floaters.
What causes flashers and floaters?
As you age, the vitreous in your eye shrinks. This shrinking causes the vitreous to become stringy, creating strands. These strands can lead to floaters, which become more and more common as you get older. About one in four adults in their 60s see floaters, and about two-thirds of people in their 80s see them. Flashers are also common as you get older.
Other causes and risks factors of floaters include:
- Inflammation inside the eye, also called uveitis
- Cataract surgery
- Eye injuries
When should I be concerned about flashers or floaters?
In most cases, flashers and floaters are nothing to be concerned about. They usually go away on their own or only happen sporadically and don’t interfere with your vision. Sometimes, these strands cause the vitreous to slowly pull away from the retinal surface, leading to a condition called vitreous detachment.
Vitreous detachment is usually not a cause for concern, but it should still be checked out by an ophthalmologist. In some cases, this pulling is more urgent, leading to a tear or break. This condition, called retinal detachment, can be serious and can rob you of your vision; it’s considered a medical emergency.
Retinal tears and detachment occur without pain, so it’s important to know the signs, including:
- A sudden and large number of floaters
- A sudden and large number of flashers
- Side vision impairment
- Gradual graying or shading of your vision, like the sun setting in the middle of the day
How are floaters and flashes treated?
In most cases, floaters and flashers are harmless and present just an occasional nuisance, so they don’t require treatment. But you should always make an appointment with the eye care professionals at the Witlin Center for Advanced Eyecare if you notice them.
If a retinal hole or tear is caught early, it can be treated before it leads to retinal detachment. Retinal tears and holes are treated with laser surgery or a freezing procedure called cryopexy, and the good news is that over 90% of retinal detachment cases can be treated effectively.