Flashes and Floaters

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. Though flashes and floaters are common and usually harmless, there are some instances when they may be a sign of something more serious.

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What are Flashes and Floaters?

Floaters are black spots or “flies” that appear in your vision and can happen at any age. They usually occur when small pieces of the vitreous, the gel-like fluid inside the eye, come apart from the back of the eye. Since they are in your eyes, they move around and seem to “follow” your eye movements so they can be very hard to focus on. Floaters can be annoying, but they are not harmful by themselves.

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 should 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 waterier 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.

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If you’re concerned about flashes or floaters and their impact on your vision, please schedule a consultation with Anh Nguyen Ophthalmology.

Frequently Asked Questions 

When should I worry about eye floaters and flashes?

Most of the time, you dont have to worry about floaters in your vision. However, if you notice a sudden increase in the number of floaters or start to see flashes of light, you should see an ophthalmologist as soon as possible.

What does it mean when you see flashes and floaters?

Floaters are normal occurrences with people who have healthy eyes. They are caused by strands of proteins in the jelly of the eye( the “vitreous humor”) that have detached from the back of your eye and begin floating around. Floaters are not a serious condition by themselves but could be the sign of something more serious.

What is the most common cause of flashes and floaters?

The most common cause of floaters is vitreous detachment, which itself is not a serious condition, but could be the sign of something more serious.

How do you get rid of floaters and flashes in your eyes?

Floaters typically go away on their own after some time. Activities such as staring at a screen for prolonged periods of time can increase the likelihood of floaters.

Do flashes always mean retinal detachment?

Flashes in your vision may or may not be caused by retinal or vitreous detachment, as some flashes are caused by sudden exposure to bright lights or head trauma. If you notice prolonged eye flashes, especially those outside your peripheral (side) vision, it is best to be evaluated by a doctor.

Can stress cause eye floaters?

Stress may have a small part to play in the frequency of eye floaters affecting your vision, but it is likely not the only cause.

What does it mean when you see flashes of light?

Flashes can appear for a number of reasons, external or internal. Eye flashes are known to be caused by head trauma, changes in the internal structure of the affected eye, and can be signs of serious eye conditions such as retinal detachment. If you begin to notice flashes, you should schedule an appointment with an eye doctor right away.

How can I reduce eye floaters and flashes naturally?

Theres no way to speed up how quickly your body breaks down the strands of protein that cause eye floaters, but if youre experiencing frequent eye flashes with an unidentified cause, it could be a sign of something an eye doctor should take a look at.

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