|What are floaters? |
Floaters are small, semi-transparent or cloudy specks in your vision. As your eyes move, the floaters move too and they may continue to drift when the eye movement stops. Floaters are most often visible when looking at a plain surface, such as a blue sky or a white wall.
Floaters can be small clumps of protein or other material trapped during the formation of your eye before birth. They can also form as the vitreous gel which fills the inside of your eye starts to thicken and shrink, forming clumps and strands in the vitreous. What you actually see is the shadows that the floaters cast onto the retina.
If a retinal tear occurs, either resulting from a vitreous detachment, or trauma, or disease a certain amount of bleeding is likely to occur. The blood cells then appear as many new floaters. Blood cells are all uniform in size and shape.
What are flashes?
Flashes are sensations of seeing a light when there is no light present. Some flashes look like many tiny bright dots of light, others look like lightening. Flashes generally only last for a brief second but they are recurrent.
Flashes are caused by the vitreous gel tugging on the retina creating an artificial stimulus that is interpreted as light. Some people with migraine headaches experience an unrelated type of flashing light. This is an aura that may appear as a shimmering, jagged light present continuously for around 20 minutes.
When are flashes and floaters serious?
Floaters are very common. Floaters that have been present for years and are unchanged in size or number are usually not serious.
If you notice the onset of a new floater (or floaters) or the onset of flashes, you should have an eye examination immediately. Your optometrist will dilate your pupils to allow a thorough evaluation of your vitreous and retina.
Flashes may go away on their own even if a serious retinal tear or detachment has developed. For this reason you must have an eye exam even if the flashes go away. Floaters generally take longer to diminish. In fact, they usually do not go away completely but you will probably learn to ignore them.
If you notice a sudden shower of new floaters, persistent flashing lights, or a partial blockage of your field of view, it is important that you have an eye examination immediately.