Flashes and Floaters

What are floaters?

Small specks or clouds moving in your vision are known as floaters. They are sometimes more noticeable when you are looking at a plain background, like a white wall or the blue sky. Floaters are tiny clumps of material moving inside the vitreous, which is the gel-like fluid that fills the inside of your eye. Floaters can appear as different shapes such as cobwebs, clouds, circles, or little dots.

What causes flashes and floaters?

As we get older, it is very common to experience flashes and floaters as the vitreous gel changes with age, gradually pulling away from the retina. When the vitreous gel tugs on the retina, one may experience flashing lights. When the gel finally pulls free from the retina, one experiences floaters. This is known as a posterior vitreous detachment (PVD) and this is the most common reason for seeing new floaters. This is not a serious problem.

PVDs are more common in people who: are nearsighted, have undergone cataract operations, have had YAG laser surgery to the eye, have had inflammation inside the eye, or have had an injury to the eye.

Sometimes, the gel can tear the retina as it pulls away from the retina. This also results in flashes and floaters. A torn retina is a serious problem as it can lead to a retinal detachment, which requires immediate attention. One cannot tell the difference between a PVD and a torn retina without a dilated eye exam. This is why the retina should be examined as soon as possible if one develops new flashes and floaters.

Sometimes, flashes that go away in 20-30 minutes without the development of new floaters are a result of an ocular migraine. Diabetics with significant diabetic retinopathy may see floaters as a result of bleeding inside the eye.

Diagnosis of flashes and floaters

Your pupils will be dilated with eye drops so that the eye doctor can examine your vitreous and retina in detail. At Denver Eye Surgeons, all of our doctors have all the necessary knowledge, expertise, and equipment to diagnose the cause for new floaters. We have a fellowship trained retinal specialist on staff who can help with the diagnosis and treatment of flashes and floaters.

Treatment of flashes and floaters

Often floaters resulting from a PVD are harmless and they become less bothersome over time. Surgery to remove floaters is almost never required.

If floaters are related to retinal tear or retinal detachment, immediate treatment either with lasers or surgery is required.

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