Flashes and Floaters: The Importance of Early Intervention

Floaters and flashes are a problem for many people. A floater is a catch-all term for the specks, threads, and cobweb-like images that occasionally drift across the line of vision. The term flashes refers to the sparks or strands of light that flicker across the visual field.

Both are usually harmless, but they can be a warning sign of trouble in the eye, especially when they suddenly appear or become more plentiful. Floaters and flashes are usually the results of aging to your vitreous (a thick gel attached to the retina). Throughout the aging process, your vitreous becomes thinner and watery, to the degree that ultimately, it pulls away from the retina. This condition is more formally known as Posterior Vitreous Separation or Detachment (PVD). During PVD, remaining tissue that was once secure within the vitreous gel begins to loosen and move around, casting a shadow on your retina. Patients begin to experience visual disturbances like flashes of light, or floaters (specks or strands across your field of vision).

If the vitreous is abnormally sticky or the retina is weak, a retinal tear can occur. Retinal tears present as a flash of light to many patients. These tears can lead to bleeding into your vitreous gel. This blood will appear the same as a typical floater in your field of vision. There is a significant risk that the liquid vitreous will enter the break and cause a retinal detachment. Retinal detachment is a severe condition, and there is potential blindness that will require surgical intervention. The first couple of months are critical to treating damage caused by a retinal detachment. If you exhibit similar symptoms with your eyes, you should schedule an evaluation with your ophthalmologist.

Generally speaking, flashes and floaters do not present any immediate danger and do not require medical treatment other than regular monitoring except for severe cases. However, to avoid further complications, you should visit an ophthalmologist.

Common Causes of Flashes and Floaters

• Cataract or YAG laser surgery
• Diabetes
• Retinitis
• Nearsightedness
• Eye infection
• A blow to the head
• An Injury to the eye
• Spasm of small retinal vessels in the eye

Treatment for Flashes and Floaters

Flashes and floaters are usually harmless and do not require any treatment aside from regular monitoring. Although, patients that are affected by disturbances in their vision, or those who have experienced significant visual interference should seek out medical assistance. When treatment is necessary to reduce the appearance of flashes and floaters, it requires surgery to replace the vitreous gel. This procedure, known as a pars plana vitrectomy, removes the natural vitreous and replaces it with fluid.

In the case of retinal detachment, emergency treatment is necessary to prevent serious complications. With treatment, most patients, even those with retinal tears, can maintain healthy vision.

If flashes or floaters are troubling you or you would like a consultation, schedule a visit with retina specialist Robert M. Reinauer, MD by contacting New Vision Eye Center at 772-257-8700.