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  • Doug Cook

Flashes & Floaters

Flashes of bright light may appear as momentary streaks of light which really are not there.  Flashes occur when mechanical stresses on the vitreous or retina create an artificial stimulation of the retinal nerve cells.

Floaters can appear intermittently, drift around and blur vision.

Floaters can appear intermittently, drift around and blur vision.

Floaters refer to the apparent floating spots that appear in your central vision.  Floaters are small cloudy particles present in the back cavity of the eye called the vitreous and are commonly seen by many people.  Floaters are often remnants of a blood vessel which once existed between the optic nerve and the lens.  Before you were born, this vessel broke up into many bits.  Floaters  can also occur when new problems begin in the posterior segment of the eye.  Retinal tears, holes and detachments have the potential to produce many new floaters often described as a  “shower of gnats”.

Vitreous Detachments occur in most people as we age.  A vitreous detachment will produce both flashes and floaters.  Vitreous detachments occur when the normally gel-like vitreous breaks down into a less viscous, watery state.  This will often create fears of a retinal detachment in some people.  The truest symptom of a retinal detachment is the sudden loss of peripheral or central vision.  This is often described as a curtain descending over one eye.  Unfortunately, many individuals are not aware of the loss of a single eye’s peripheral vision until it is too late.  Only a dilated eye examination will reveal if the symptoms are caused by a retinal or vitreous detachment.

The best thing to do if you notice a sudden onset or increase in flashes, floaters or curtains is to call our office so we may directly inspect the retina.  Do not delay calling us even if it occurs at night or on a weekend.

When floaters persist, they can indeed be an annoying and incapacitating problem.  A vitrectomy can remove the floaters.  Ophthalmologists subspecializing as vitreoretinal specialists most often perform this procedure.   The procedure has risks.  Up to 10% of surgeries can develop a retinal detachment.  Glaucoma can be another complication.  Both of these can be itself treated or repaired so a careful risk versus benefit should be considered by the patient.  Since most floaters can subside within months, no treatment is the recommended strategy.  Vitrectomy can offer a successful resolution if floaters persist longer than this time.

This article offers more in depth discussion of the information to consider for vitrectomy for floaters.

A number of different conditions of the vitreous or retina can produce floaters.

A number of different conditions of the vitreous or retina can produce floaters.

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