Floaters are dark spots, circles, cobwebs or strings that drift around in the field of vision.
Flashes refer to lights or bright shapes seen in the field of vision.
Floaters are dark spots, circles, cobwebs or strings that drift around in the field of vision. Some people even describe them as a small insect floating past in their vision!
Flashes refer to lights or bright shapes seen in the field of vision. They are likened to lightning streaks or camera flashes usually noticed in the outer visual field. Depending on the cause of the flashes they might be short-lived or continue indefinitely until the retina is repaired.
Flashes and floaters can occur simultaneously or independent of one another.
What causes flashes and floaters?
Both symptoms are commonly caused by the separation of the vitreous gel from the retina, a normal aging process known as posterior vitreous detachment. However, flashes and floaters can also be a sign that the retina has been torn or detached. It can even be a sign of migraine or something more sinister such as tumours or stroke.
A thorough examination by an Ophthalmologist is therefore strongly indicated at the onset of any kind of flashes and/or floaters.
- Normal Vitreous Floaters – In the young eye, the vitreous gel is crystal clear and strongly adhered onto the surface of the retina. This gel can sometimes clump together and is visible as floaters in the vision. These floaters can be a nuisance but are harmless.
- Posterior Vitreous Detachment – As you age the vitreous gel begins to shrink and pull away from the retina. This normal aging process is known as a Posterior Vitreous Detachment (PVD). As the vitreous tugs/pulls it can send electrical impulses to the brain that appear as flashes of the light in the vision. If no complications arise, a PVD does not require any treatment or intervention and is a natural part of aging.
- Retinal Tear – During a PVD as the vitreous attempts to detach, it can pull and tug on the retina leading to a tear or break. If left untreated, a tear can then progress to a detachment. Retinal tears, if diagnosed early, can be treated in the clinic rooms with laser to seal the tear.
- Retinal Detachment – Retinal Detachment requires surgical intervention to treat and can result in permanent loss of vision.
Flashes and floaters due to a retinal tear/detachment are no different to those that are noticed during a the normal aging process of a PVD. This is why an immediate dilated eye examination is crucial at the onset of any flashes or floaters.