Flashes, Floaters, and Vitreous Detachment

Floaters are small, semi-transparent or cloudy particles within the vitreous humor, which is the jelly-like substance that fills the inner portion of your eyes. Floaters are usually harmless and are seen by many of us at one time or another.

Floaters generally look like translucent specks of various shapes and sizes or like cobwebs. They are frequently visible when you are looking at a plain, light-colored background such as a white wall, a blue sky, or the white pages of a book.

There are a number of possible causes for floaters. There may be small flecks of protein or other matter that were trapped during the formation of your eyes before birth and remain suspended in the clear fluid of the vitreous. Deterioration of the vitreous fluid may also cause floaters to develop. This can be part of the natural aging process and is often not serious, though it can be very annoying. Certain eye diseases or injuries can cause floaters.

Sometimes flashes or streaks of light may appear. This may be happening because the jelly-like vitreous is shrinking and pulling on the retina. The retinal receptor cells are stimulated to “fire” by the tugging action and cause the perception of light flashes.

Flashes, floaters, and vitreous detachment are common and only infrequently lead to serious eye problems. On rare occasions, vitreous detachment can cause small tears or holes in the retina.

While flashes and floaters can be symptoms or signs of either vitreous detachment or retinal detachment, vitreous involvement occurs far more frequently and usually requires no treatment. Even though a retinal detachment is rare, it is best to call our office if you experience an increase in number of floaters, the appearance of flashing lights in your vision, or if it looks like part of your vision is distorted.

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