Eye floaters and light flashes cause a lot of questions. Our optometrist gets a lot of questions regarding flashes & floaters from our patients. We hope this short FAQ helps answer your questions about these visual experiences.
The following questions were created from past experiences with patients, as well as most commonly asked questions on google.
Usually located in your peripheral vision, eye floaters (or spots) refers to the small dots or cobweb-like shapes that float within your vision. Floaters are tiny cell clumps inside your eye that cast a shadow on the retina, resulting in the small dots to appear in your vision.
When perceived, it is impossible actually focus on a floater. This is because they are not in front of your eyes, but inside them, and the act of moving your eye to focus causes the vitreous – and floaters – move.
Your eye is filled with a gel-like liquid called the vitreous. The purpose of the vitreous is to maintain the eyes round shape. It lies in the space between the iris and the retina.
The vitreous contains millions of tiny fibers throughout it that attach to the surface of the retina. It keeps the retina in place by pressing it up against the choroid (the vascular layer of the eye).
Floaters are the small dots, lines, or cobweb-like shapes that float within your vision described above.
Flashes, on the other hand, are like flashing lights or lightning streaks. They are experienced when the vitreous gel inside of our eyes pulls on the retina. Sometimes they are faint (almost like a twinkle), and other times they are more prominent.
Flashers are not common, whereas floaters are (especially as we age).
Everybody will see floaters at least once in their lifetime, with them becoming more frequent and noticeable with age.
With that being said, a major sudden increase in the number of floaters is cause for alarm. You should contact our Optometrist immediately if you notice a sudden change in the number or size of your floaters, as this change may be signaling a retinal detachment or other concern that requires medical intervention.
The sensation of “seeing stars” is experienced due to a change in eye pressure. This can be caused by a variety of things, such as getting up too quickly, aggressive coughing, or sneezing. Another common cause of seeing stars is from a blow to the head.
As previously stated, floaters differ from “seeing stars” as they are caused by the shadows casted onto the retina from small clumps of cells within the vitreous.
When appearing suddenly, and in large numbers, floaters are a cause for concern. This is especially true when floaters are accompanied by flashes.
Another sensation that may be present with flashes and floaters is the appearance of a curtain or veil being drawn over your field of vision. These are all signs of a retinal tear or detachment that can result in loss of vision.
Your Optometrist will be able to detect floaters through a comprehensive eye examination. The examination will evaluate the vitreous and retina of your eyes.
Eye drops may be used to dilate your pupils to make them larger, followed by the use of instruments called a biomicroscope and ophthalmoscope to examine the inside of your eyes.
Using these tools will allow your Optometrist to observe any floaters that may be present inside of your eye, as well as ensure the retina is healthy and intact.