Flashes and Floaters in Your Eyes: When to See the Doctor
Written by: Edward Wood, MD of Austin Retina Associates
Have you ever seen tiny dark specks in your field of vision and wondered if you should be concerned? Many people with healthy eyes will see floaters, described as tiny spider webs or dark specks, on occasion. If you are experiencing a sudden onset of new floaters or they are accompanied by flashes of light, you should schedule an appointment with an ophthalmologist right away.
Understanding eye floaters
Floaters are small collections of cells that are suspended within the clear gel (vitreous) that fills the inside of the eye. The vitreous gel of a newborn child has the consistency of jello, and with age the gel breaks down, liquefies, and portions of the gel collect together into mobile clumps and strands that block light. As a consequence, floaters are the moving shadows of these clumps and strands within the vitreous gel.
It can be normal to have a few small floaters, but a sudden new shower of floaters is often the result of a vitreous detachment. The age-related breakdown and liquefaction of vitreous gel ultimately results in the gel separating from the surface of the retina in an event known as a posterior vitreous detachment or PVD. This occurs in about 50% of people by the age of 50 and 70% of people by the age of 70. Most of the time this occurs as a normal ageing process, but occasionally the vitreous gel may be closely adherent to the retinal tissue that lines the back of the eye. If the vitreous gel is stuck to the retina and in the process of detaching, it may cause other symptoms such as flashes of light.
The significance of flashes in your eyes
A flash of light indicates that the retina is being stretched or pulled. The flashes that accompany a vitreous detachment are often brief and described as a lightning or camera flash. If the retina is pulled or stretched enough to result in a tear in the retina, it is possible to see many flashes of light and/or many floaters suddenly.
When to see the doctor
A retinal tear is a medical emergency because without treatment it usually results in a retinal detachment which can cause serious vision loss. While most of the time flashes and floaters are not associated with a tear, there is no way of truly knowing without being evaluated by a doctor who specifically examines your eye for the presence of a retinal tear.
Flashes and floaters are some of the many visual symptoms caused by which can either be due to aging or disease, and the best way of determining the difference and protecting vision is to undergo an receive a dedicated eye examination.
If you have questions about flashes, floaters or other retina conditions, contact Austin Retina Associates today at 800-252-8259 or visit austinretina.com.
Dr. Edward Wood is a board certified and fellowship trained vitreoretinal surgeon specializing in the management of all diseases of the retina and vitreous in both adults and children. He sees patients Dr. Wood at the following locations: Central Austin, Round Rock, Lakeway, South Austin, Marble Falls Green, and Killeen.