Q: What are they?
A: Floaters appear to most people as small specks, cobwebs or strands of fiber which move slowly across the field of vision. Flashes appear as sudden brief glints of light. Both floaters and flashes commonly occur as we grow older.
Q: What causes them?
A: As we mature, the vitreous gel shrinks and pulls away from the retina. Floaters are formed from the reorganization of the vitreous material and from some fragments of the retina which have been pulled into the vitreous cavity. Floaters are especially common in nearsighted people, in people who have suffered severe eye injuries and after eye surgery. Although uncommon, floaters can also result from inflammation within the eye or from crystal-like deposits which form in the vitreous gel. When the vitreous gel which fills the inside of the eye rubs or pulls on the retina, it sometimes produces the illusion of flashing lights or lightening streaks called flashes. The flashes of light may appear off and on for several weeks or months. On rare occasions, light flashes accompany a large number of new floaters and even a partial loss or shadowing of side vision. When this happens, prompt examination is important to determine if a torn retina or retinal detachment has occurred.
Q: Can they be prevented?
Q: How are they detected?
A: The ophthalmoscope is frequently used to examine both the central and peripheral retina which will detect the presence of floaters and/or flashes. The slit-lamp, combining a microscope with a strong illumination, is often used with a hand held lens, allowing portions of the retina to be seen in greater detail.
Some patients are given an intravenous injection of fluorescein dye in a procedure called "fluorescein angiography". The dye which takes only moments to reach the eye, makes tiny blood vessels visible, enabling photographs to be taken for later study.
Q: How are they treated?
A: Although annoying, floaters are not usually vision threatening and do not require treatment. Often floaters diminish and become less bothersome over time. If a floater appears directly in the line of vision, moving the eye around will often help. In cases where floaters do indicate a more serious condition, lasers can be used to prevent vision loss.
Like floaters, unless they represent the symptoms of a more serious condition, flashes do not require treatment. Flashes which are a result of the vitreous pulling away from the retina will eventually stop. However, flashes may indicate retinal detachment which needs immediate medical attention