What Can You Do About Floaters and Flashes in the Eye?
Flashes and floaters that a person sees may be harmless, or in some cases, they may be symptoms of a more serious problem. A sudden increase in flashes of light or floaters may signal a retinal tear or detachment.
“Although very common, sudden onset of flashes and floaters should prompt a thorough peripheral retinal eye exam to be certain there is not a retinal tear or early retinal detachment,” explains board-certified retina specialist Dr. Jose Agustin Martinez. “Both can be treated effectively but left untreated can lead to more serious sight-threatening problems.”
If you experience any of the following key warning signs of retinal tears or detachment, call your doctor right away:
- A new onset or increase of floaters or flashes of light
- A dark area or gradual shading of vision from the side (like a curtain being drawn)
- Rapid decline in central or peripheral vision
What are eye floaters?
Eye floaters appear as small specks, dots, lines, or cobwebs in your field of vision. They often occur because the jelly-like substance inside your eyes, called vitreous gel, becomes more liquid or separates from the back of the eye, known as a posterior vitreous detachment. As a result, microscopic proteins within your eye clump together and cast tiny shadows on your retina. While they seem to be in front of your eye, they are floating inside and casting shadows on your retina. In some circumstances, new floaters can be a sign of inflammation in the eye, especially if you have eye pain or blurry vision.
What are eye flashes?
Flashes are spots of light that you see in your field of vision, often described as ‘flashing lights’ or ‘lightening streaks’. Flashes often occur when the vitreous gel inside your eye pulls on the retina. Traction on the retina creates the flash that you see.
What can you do about flashes and floaters in the eye?
Occasional flashes and floaters typically do not require treatment. While new floaters can be very bothersome soon after they appear—and should be evaluated by an eye doctor—they usually get better with time as gravity pulls them down and the brain “tunes them out.” Most patients report their floaters improve greatly over 3 to 6 months. However, if large floaters are in your central vision and affect your quality of life a retinal surgery, called a vitrectomy, may be performed to remove them. During vitrectomy surgery, your retina surgeon will remove your floaters—and the vitreous gel that causes them—from the center of your eye with microscopic instruments. The vitreous gel does not need to be replaced; clear fluid produced by the front of the eye will fill the area where the gel used to be. Depending on the individual treatment plan, a bubble of air or gas may be placed in the eye after surgery, which disappears with time.
Floaters can also be treated by a laser procedure called YAG vitreolysis. However, this method does not completely remove all floaters and may lead to complications such as retinal tears.