Center for Sight

Comprehensive Eye Care Center

Floaters & Flashes of Light

Floaters and flashes of light are a common complaint we hear from patients at Center for Sight in Fall River. Floaters and flashes are an eye condition that can be an annoyance and may even be frightening. Floaters may appear as tiny specks or “cobwebs” or as small dark shadows, “thread-like” strands or even “squiggly” lines that actually float around in your field of vision. They tend to move as your eyes move, but not necessarily in the same direction, and often just drift away when your eyes stop moving.

Generally, floaters are a normal and expected consequence of the aging process of your eyes. In most cases, if left alone, they will “settle” or break up over time and no longer be annoying.

Most patients learn to simply ignore their floaters under most circumstances. Typically, they become more noticeable when looking at a visual field with a white background such as a plain piece of paper or a clear blue sky. The “back of the eye” is filled with a gel-like substance called the vitreous humor. As we age, the vitreous tends to separate into liquid sections and “stringy” or “clumped” sections which can cast shadows on the retina which are perceived as floaters.

The likelihood of experiencing floaters increases as we get older and is more common if you are very nearsighted, have diabetes or have had a blow to the head from sports or an accident. Sometimes other eye conditions or problems inside the eye may cause floaters such as infections, inflammation, hemorrhages, retinal tears or trauma to the eye.

Occasionally a small section of the vitreous gel may pull away from the retina all at once, instead of slowly and gradually, and this may cause a noticeable and sudden increase in the number of floaters that you see and can be accompanied by flashes of light. This is called a Vitreous Detachment and it means that you should quickly schedule an eye exam-especially if light flashes or a distortion in your side vision accompanies it as these are signs of a possible Retinal Detachment, which is a sight threatening medical emergency.
For the vast majority of people who have floaters, even though they may be annoying, no treatment is recommended. In many instances the floaters actually “settle” over time making them less noticeable. In the unusual event that your floaters are extremely bothersome because there are a great number of them or because they are particularly dense, a surgical procedure called Vitrectomy may be considered. Performing a Vitrectomy [click to view vitrectomy procedure] requires a Retinal Surgeon to actually remove the Vitreous gel along with any debris or strand like material that may be interfering with your vision. Vitrectomy is considered major eye surgery and most eye surgeons are quite hesitant to recommend Vitrectomy as treatment for floaters unless the disturbance of your vision is very significant.

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