Floaters are tiny spots, specks or cobweb-like shapes that drift around your visual field. Flashes are sparks of light that flicker across your field of vision. Though irritating, floaters and flashes are common visual conditions and are usually harmless. In rare cases, they can be a warning sign of a troubling condition.
In this post, the team at Island Eye Surgicenter explains floaters and flashes in more detail and lays out the steps to take if you experience either one of them.
What Causes Floaters?
Floaters and flashes come from the vitreous, the jelly-like substance that fills the space between the eye’s lens and retina. The vitreous gel acts as a pathway for light that enters the eye through the lens to the retina. With age, the vitreous starts to dissolve and liquefy.
Sometimes, a cluster of cells or protein floats around in the liquid center of the vitreous, taking on different shapes and sizes. These particles are what we call floaters. They may appear as a dot, circle, line, clouds or cobwebs. If you have floaters, you aren’t seeing these particles, you are actually seeing shadows from these floaters projected on the retina as light passes through the eye. They move as your eye moves, so they look as though they are drifting in the eye.
Flashes, which resemble flashing light or lightening streaks, occur when the vitreous gel bumps or tugs against the retina.
What to Do About Floaters
Though floaters and flashes are typically benign, some people find that they affect their vision and reading ability. If you experience floaters or flashes, there are a few things you can do:
- Move your eyes up and down, or side to side, which can shift floaters.
- Eat a diet high in antioxidants (e.g., carrots, dark leafy greens, other brightly colored vegetables) and Omega 3 fatty acids (e.g., fish, walnuts) to promote optimal eye health
- Ask your doctor about taking a supplement called taurine, which is an amino acid that can help maintain the function of the retina.
Surgery can be performed to remove benign eye floaters. However, the risks usually outweigh the irritations caused by the floater.
When Floaters or Flashes Can Be Serious
In rare cases, floaters and flashes can signal a dangerous condition that could cause vision loss. For example, sometimes the vitreous can pull away from the retina and cause the retina to tear. The retina can become dislodged from the tissues that nourish it, a condition known as retinal detachment. Though painless, retinal detachment can cause permanent vision loss. Retinal detachment is painless, but may cause an onset of floaters and flashes, shading of vision from one side and the rapid decline of clear central vision.
If you experience any of those symptoms, call our eye doctors immediately. You need an eye exam right away to determine what has happened and begin treatment.
For more information about floaters or flashes, or to schedule an appointment with our eye doctors, please call (516) 877-2400 or (516) 877-1560.