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Floaters and Flashes

Floaters and Flashes

What is a floater?

A floater looks like small specks, dots, circles, lines, or cobwebs in your field of vision. While they seem to be in front of your eye, they are actually floating inside of it. Floaters are small clumps of gel or cells inside the vitreous fluid that fill your eyeball. What you see are actually the shadows that these clumps can cast on your retina. You usually notice floaters when you’re staring at something plain, like a blank wall or a blue sky. Individuals with floaters also may have difficulty driving during the nighttime. This is because the oncoming traffic lights can blur your vision on top of the specs that are already getting in the way of your view. Making it almost impossible to see.

As we grow older, our vitreous fluid starts to thicken up or shrink. When this occurs, clumps or strands can form in the vitreous. If it somehow pulls away from the back of the eye, this is called posterior vitreous detachment. Floaters usually stem from posterior vitreous detachment. They are not fatal, or painful, and tend to fade out or go away within time. Severe floaters can be removed by surgery, but this is not often the case.

You would be more likely to get floaters in your eyes if you are nearsighted, (which means you need glasses to see far away), if you have had surgery for cataracts, or if you have had inflammation or swelling inside of your eye.

What are flashes?

Flashes can look like flashing lights, or even lightning streaks that cloud your field of vision. Some people compare the flashes of light to seeing “Stars” after being hit on the head. The flashes may come on and off for weeks or even months. They occur when your vitreous rubs or pulls on your retina, allowing for the specs of light to flash into your line of vision. Flashes become more frequent with age.

When do floaters and flashes become serious?

Typically floaters and flashes will not become a serious issue. However, if you begin to notice a lot of new floaters or a lot of new flashes in your eyes, this is when you should let your ophthalmologist know right away.

Flashes and Migraines

Sometimes people will notice that their light flashes look like jagged lines or heat waves. These flashes can appear in one of your eyes or even both and can last up to twenty minutes. A long-lasting flash like this could be caused by a migraine. A migraine is a spasm of blood vessels in your brain, and when you get a headache right after a flash these are called migraine headaches. A light flash without a headache would be called an ophthalmic migraine or a migraine without a headache.

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