Eye Floaters and Flashes
If you notice shadowy shapes floating or brief bursts of light in your field of vision, you may be experiencing eye floaters and flashes. Both of these symptoms are common reasons why people come to Retina Associates of Utah. Floaters move with your eyes in the direction you look, taking on various shapes and forms, while flashes are bright spots that interrupt your field of vision. Floaters and flashes may be symptoms of other conditions, and they’re usually harmless, requiring no treatment. But regular ophthalmologic monitoring is needed, as they can indicate other issues, such as a retinal tear or detachment.
Eye Floater Development
In most cases, floaters develop due to a condition known as posterior vitreous detachment (PVD). This occurs with aging, as the vitreous gradually shrinks, causing it to pull on the retina. This creates tiny particles, which slowly drift in front of your macula (the retina’s center). Floaters usually develop in one eye at a time, taking on different appearances, like spots, squiggly lines, or shadowy shapes.
Floaters are permanent, and you can expect them to return to your field of vision, even with blinking. Typically, they don’t require treatment. As time passes, they may become less noticeable. You may also develop floaters if you are nearsighted.
While the occasional floater is generally nothing to be concerned about, it’s important to alert your eye doctor about them during your routine eye exam. In some cases, a high number or sudden burst of floaters indicates that your retina is torn or about to detach, which is a severe vision emergency that needs to be addressed immediately. That’s because floaters may be mistaken for other conditions.
Aside from PVD, retinal tears, and retinal detachments, floaters may develop if you:
- Have blood in your eye, typically associated with diabetes-related retinopathy
- Uveitis, a condition involving inflammation within your eye.
- Have past eye issues, like swelling within your eye.
- Have undergone cataract surgery.
Eye Flashes Development
Early in the morning, you may notice flashes, which fade throughout the day. You may also notice them in dark rooms. Patients often compare this visual phenomenon to streaks of light, bursts, or jagged light similar to lightning. In some cases, flashes in your vision can develop due to ocular migraine. Typically seen in younger people, these types of flashes may look like zig-zag shapes, orbs of light, or blind spots.
Flashes may occur with underlying conditions, such as retinitis pigmentosa, in which retinal cells break down. They, along with floaters, can also be a sign of a retinal tear or detachment. Your chances for flashes may be greater if you have family members who have had retinal detachments. If you’ve had eye surgery, such as for cataracts or glaucoma, or you take glaucoma medication, this may also increase your risks. Floaters and flashes may occur due to injury, as well.
How Common Are Floaters and Flashes?
Floaters are very common, generally occurring between the ages of 50 and 70. Among people over the age of 50, 75% experience floaters. This increases to 87% among those 80-89 years old. Typically, floaters and flashes occur in one eye at a time. If a patient has floaters or flashes in a single eye, this usually indicates PVD.
Myopia increases the risk of developing floaters, especially for younger people. For children under 16 years of age, unless related to eye disease, it’s unusual to notice floaters. The more myopic your eyes, the faster your vitreous ages. In addition, myopia increases retinal tear and detachment risks, which are associated with floater development.
Diagnosing Floaters and Flashes
Regular dilated eye exams are essential, as they allow floaters and flashes and their causes to be quickly detected. Your ophthalmologist can then initiate treatment, if necessary. This painless exam will include dilation, in which special eye drops are applied to dilate your eyes, allowing ophthalmologists to inspect the vitreous and the back of your eyes. To check for retinal tears, they may also press on your eyelids. If the exam does not show the cause, you may require additional testing, like an ultrasound of the eye.
When To Discuss Your Floaters & Flashes
With floaters and flashes, some symptoms can indicate a retinal tear or retinal detachment, both of which can cause permanent vision loss and other issues if not dealt with immediately. If you notice any of the following, contact your ophthalmologist as quickly as possible:
- Flashes or floaters suddenly multiply
- Suddenly seeing gray or dark floaters or repeated flashes of light
- Experiencing visual distortions
- Having a dark area or “curtain” in your field of vision
- Seeing flashes after being hit in the eye or face
Treatment of Floaters and Flashes
Most often, if your floaters or flashes develop due to PVD, they will not require any treatment.
Treatment For Eye Floaters
Generally, treating floaters is not necessary. However, if floaters are associated with an underlying issue, that condition may need to be addressed. Should treatment be needed, you may require a vitrectomy – a minimally invasive surgical procedure in which part or all of the vitreous is removed from the back of the eye. Or, you may undergo vitreolysis, in which a special laser breaks up the floaters, making them less noticeable.
Treatment For Eye Flashes
Treatment is not advised for flashes that only appear occasionally, but for those appearing frequently, your ophthalmologist may treat the underlying cause, like retinal tears or detachment. Often, you may undergo cryotherapy (freezing treatment) or laser repair. Should diabetic retinopathy lead to retinal scarring, you may require:
- Laser treatment to remove new blood vessels
- Eye injections to prevent new blood vessel development
- Eye surgery to remove scarring
Various surgical procedures, such as a vitrectomy, may be used for retinal detachment. You may also undergo pneumatic retinopexy, where a gas bubble is injected into the vitreous, pushing the torn retina closed. As you heal, new fluid fills the eye. Or, your retinal specialist may perform a scleral buckle procedure, involving a small piece of silicone sponge or semi-hard plastic being placed on the sclera. This secures the retina in place until a seal forms. Your surgeon will also remove any vitreal liquid that has seeped under the retina.
Schedule a Consultation for Floaters and Flashes in Utah
While eye floaters and flashes often require no treatment, regular monitoring is essential, as they may indicate more serious or underlying conditions. If floaters and flashes are interfering with your quality of life, or you have questions, please contact us at Retina Associates of Utah for an appointment.