Floaters and Flashes


Floaters are small pieces of material that form in the vitreous -- the clear fluid that fills the interior cavity of the eye. Floaters are usually clumps of condensed protein or cells, seen as small specks or strands moving into your field of vision. They may have the appearance of a small insect or cobweb or veil. Almost every eye has floaters and are a normal visual observation. A sudden increase in spots or floaters should be evaluated by your doctor.

Floaters are most apparent when you are looking at a plain background such as a blank wall or blue sky. They can be seen because they create shadows on the retina, the light sensitive film at the back of the eye.

Light Flashes

Flashes of light lasting a few seconds may appear in your vision when the vitreous gel pulls or tugs on the retina. This may happen as a natural result of aging or it may occur temporarily if you receive a blow to the head or eye. Usually these flashes, which are often described as lightning streaks, are noticed at night.

Light flashes appearing as wavy lines in both eyes and lasting from a few minutes to half-an-hour, are usually a sign of an ocular migraine headache. Migraine-related flashes are often noticed in a lighted environment. Flashes of this nature are not a symptom of eye problems. If you suffer from ocular migraines, contact your family physician for assistance.

The onset of new light flashes of short duration at night, especially when accompanied by the appearance of many new floaters or a blackening out of part of your field of vision, may indicate a retinal tear or detachment. If you experience light flashes in combination with these symptoms, you should contact your eye doctor immediately to arrange for an examination by a retina specialist.

What Should Be Done About Floaters And Flashes?

Usually the appearance of new floaters or light flashes does not indicate any serious eye problem. However, the only way to ensure that the floaters or flashes are not symptomatic of a more serious problem, is to have your retina examined. If, following the exam, you develop large numbers of new floaters that seem to get worse over time, we recommend that you have your eyes re-examined.

When floaters appear in your line of vision, move your eye around -- up and down as well as from side to side. This movement creates a swirling in the vitreous fluid and may cause the floater to move out of your field of vision.

Regular Check-Ups 
To safeguard your vision, individuals over age 40 should undergo a comprehensive eye exam annually. If you are under age 40 and have risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes or a family history of glaucoma or macular degeneration, a yearly exam is also recommended.

Individuals under age 40 who are in good health, with no known risk factors should have their eyes examined every two years.

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