When it comes to the health of our eyes, sometimes it’s hard to tell when things are as they should be. Many people are often confused when it comes to flashes and floaters in the eyes. Though flashes and floaters are common and usually harmless, there are some instances when they may be a sign of something more serious.
What are Flashes and Floaters?
Flashes and floaters are common occurrences in healthy eyes. Floaters will usually occur when small pieces of the vitreous, the gel-like fluid inside the eye, come apart from the back of the eye. This can manifest itself as the small dots, stars, and spots that you see when you stare at a computer screen or a white background for too long. They are in your eyes, so you cannot focus on the floaters. They will move around and seem to “follow” your eye movements. These can be annoying, but happen to almost everyone with age.
Flashes, also known as photopsias, occur when the retina is stimulated mechanically. These flashes, sparks, or flickering “lights” can be a symptom of the retina being detached, tugged at, or torn. This could be cause for concern, especially if you see a shower of spots and flashes at the same time. If the retina becomes torn, the vitreous can push the retina further back, which often leads to a retinal detachment. Retinal detachments can lead to permanent vision loss if a medical professional does not treat them immediately.
What Causes Flashes and Floaters?
One of the most common causes of vitreous floaters are posterior vitreous detachments (also known as PVD). These detachments can occur with age, as the vitreous in the eye becomes more watery and less able to keep its shape. This causes the vitreous to detach from the retina and shrink towards the center of the eye. The symptoms of this condition are very similar to the symptoms of a retinal detachment: sudden increase in floaters, flashes, blurring vision, and a dark “curtain” in peripheral vision. There are no treatments for this condition, however PVD usually gets better on their own with time.
There are many instances where PVD with floaters can occur. If a PVD also causes bleeding inside the eye, blood vessels may have been broken in the retina. This is called a vitreous hemorrhage. Vitreous hemorrhages increase the risk of a retinal detachment or retinal tear. If vitreous hemorrhaging occurs, it can also lead to conditions like macular puckers or macular holes. People with diabetic retinopathy or who have recently undergone cataract surgery are at risk of vitreous detachment.