Floaters and Flashes


Disturbances in Vision: Floaters and Flashes

Have you ever seen a speck or a flashing light moving in your field of vision? Known as floaters and flashes, these visual disturbances1 are relatively common phenomena, often occurring in middle-aged individuals. However, if you experience floaters and flashes2, you should consult one of our ophthalmologists, particularly if you suddenly develop new ones. Let our Orange County eye doctors examine your eyes to make sure they are not having a more serious health problem.

What are floaters?

Floaters3 are small specks, circles, lines or dots that enter your field of vision and 'float' dynamically as the eye moves. Typically, they are most noticeable against plain backgrounds, such as a white wall or the blue sky. These moving shapes are actually the shadows of gelatinous accumulations that have formed in the vitreous (the thick transparent fluid that fills the eye's interior). When these minuscule clumps are present, they cast a shadow on the retina (the light-sensitive layer that processes the images we observe).

What are flashes?

Flashes are a light sensation, similar to the lightning-like spots that appear when pressure is applied to the eye. Just like floaters, flashes are related to changes in the vitreous. These light streaks occur when the vitreous shrinks and pulls at the retina. Flashes can come and go for months and may appear more frequently as a person ages. However, flashes may also indicate a torn retina, so it is important to consult an eye specialist. At Beach Eye Medical Group, we have the specialists you need on-site, including Retina specialists that may be able to quickly treat a torn retina urgently.

Causes and Risk Factors

Age: The appearance of floaters and flashes can be largely attributed to the normal aging process. The vitreous, an egg-white-like substance that is attached to the retina, gives the eye shape. As we age, the vitreous changes consistency, becoming less gel-like and more liquid-like. This gradual thinning causes the vitreous to separate from the retina.

Other risk factors: Floaters and flashes develop more frequently in individuals who are nearsighted and/or have had corrective procedures, such as cataract or laser surgery. Inflammation inside the eye may also increase the chances of developing floaters.

Flashers and Floaters Diagnosis and Treatment

While floaters and flashes are not necessarily a cause for worry, they can signal a torn or detached retina4 or retinal disease5, which can be a serious concern. If you experience symptoms such as an increase in the number of floaters, the sudden appearance of flashes, shadows in your peripheral vision, or other visual disturbances, you should contact Beach Eye Medical Group or our Retina associates immediately for an examination.

To make a diagnosis, one of our Orange County eye specialists will conduct a thorough clinical exam. The exam will likely involve the dilation of the pupils.

Treatment depends on the underlying cause or condition. Many floaters and flashes are harmless and may fade and become less noticeable over time. Although floaters can be removed, the risk of surgery may be greater than the visual nuisance they create. If a tear is present, treatment is required to prevent retinal detachment. Tears can be treated by laser light or a procedure that involves freezing (cryopexy). If the torn retina cannot be treated by these procedures, surgery may be necessary.

Regular eye exams should be a part of your regular health maintenance routine – and they are especially important as you age. If you suffer from floaters or flashers and live in Orange County, call (714) 965-9696 or click here to schedule an appointment with one of our eye doctors.

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