Flashes & Floaters

Floaters are movable spots that can appear in your field of vision. Eye floaters may look like black or grey particles that move along with eye movement. Flashes are perception of brief arcs or flashes of light that you may experience even in a dark room where no light is actually flashing.

Causes

Floaters and flashes can be caused by any of the following:

Age-related changes of the eyes: Age-related changes in the vitreous (jelly-like material inside the eye) causes it to liquefy and pull away from the interior surface of the eyeball where it is attached to the retina. This process is called posterior vitreous detachment (PVD) and occurs mostly in people between the ages of 40 and 70. The vitreous pulling on the retina during PVD can normally be experienced as bright flashes of light. Vitreous becomes clumped and string-like due to shrinkage. Pieces of these can present as spider-like, string-like, or ring-like visual floating mobile objects as light passing through the eye cast shadows of these on your retina, which you may experience as floaters.

Posterior uveitis:inflammation in the layers of the uvea in the back of your eye

Vitreous hemorrhage:bleeding into the vitreous of the eye

Retinal tear: if the vitreous pulls out with enough force to tear the retina it can cause floaters to appear which may represent blood into the vitreous or pigments from the retinal tear. Retinal tears can lead to retinal detachment and if left untreated can cause permanent loss of vision.

Diagnosis

Your eye doctor will place pupil-dilating drops and conduct a complete eye examination in order to find the cause of floaters and flashes in your eyes.

Treatment

Floaters and flashes will normally disappear over weeks or months if was from PVD. Your doctor will often review you again several weeks later to check that the retina remains healthy once all parts of the vitreous detach itself from the retina.

You will however notify doctor if new flashes, floaters, or curtain shadows occur in the meantime.

If however, the flashes and floaters are from a retinal tear, then your doctor will perform procedures that seal around the tear. If retinal tear is small and without retinal detachment, this sealing laser can usually be done at the office setting sitting up on a laser machine. However, if there was progression to a retinal detachment, then often it would mean a semi-urgent surgical procedure to reattach the retina. During this procedure, a small incision is made in your eye and the jelly-like vitreous is removed and the retina reattached. Depending on the location of the tear and retinal detachment, there could be gas or other substances placed inside the eye. This can necessitate certain posturing of your head for a few days. There may also be limitation of how high or how low you can go above or below sea level the following fortnight or so. Cataract is also likely happen sooner.