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Eye Floaters

Chart Showing How Floaters and Flashes Affect the EyeMany people experience annoying symptoms known as flashers and floaters in the eye. The likelihood of these problems increases during and after middle age. Although harmless, flashes and floaters could be a sign of a more serious condition.

What Is a Floater?

Floaters are tiny specks or threads that sometimes appear in people’s field of vision. A floater is a tiny cluster of cells or protein lodged in the vitreous humor.

The vitreous is a clear gel in the back of the eye that connects to the retina. Although floaters appear to be in the front of the eye, they aren’t. What people are seeing are shadows of the cell clusters across the retina. They tend to float across the eye when it is not moving. They are most obvious against a plain or white background.

What Causes Floaters?

As we age, the vitreous gel in the back of the eye tends to become more liquefied. Tiny particles of the vitreous may break loose in the back of the eye. They may also float in the liquid part of the vitreous. This creates the small dots or thread-like images known as floaters.

Are Floaters Dangerous?

Seeing occasional floaters across the eye is generally not dangerous. A sudden appearance of a “shower” or many floaters could be a symptom of a more serious retinal problem. This could be something like a retinal detachment. It is best to contact your eye doctor to request an urgent evaluation. A retinal detachment is a medical emergency.

Is There Any Way To Treat Floaters?

In general, doctors do not recommend treatment for occasional floaters. They tend to fade or go away over time.
Doctors recommend looking up or down, or side to side to move them out of the field of vision.

Laser vitreolysis is a newer treatment for large or very bothersome floaters. This is a pain-free office procedure where a laser beam focuses on the pupil of the eye. The laser then breaks up the floaters. The ophthalmologist inserts anesthetic eye drops that help numb the eye. Then, they place a special type of contact lens on the eye. They then use the laser machine to deliver the laser energy to dissolve the floaters. The entire procedure takes less than a half-hour.

After the procedure, you may experience some mild discomfort, redness, or blurry vision. This usually resolves itself quickly.

What Are Eye Flashes?

Flashes look like flashing lights or lightning streaks across your eye. They can be a small flash in one spot, or several flashes across a wider area.

What Causes Eye Flashes?

  • Flashes of light can occur when the retina is pulled, torn, or detached from the back of the eye.
  • Trauma to the eye
  • Ocular migraines are jagged line flashes that can last 10-20 minutes. They occur because of a blood spasm in the brain and are not always accompanied by a headache.

Are Flashes Dangerous?

Seeing occasional flashes can happen as we age. But flashes can also be indicative of a torn or detached retina.
A detached retina requires immediate treatment to avoid permanent loss of vision.

If you experience the following symptoms, you should see an eye doctor immediately:

  • Seeing a lot of flashes
  • New floaters or an increase in the number of floaters
  • A shadow across your side (peripheral) vision
  • A curtain-like covering across part of your vision


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