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Floaters, Flashes and Spots

Contents

Floaters, Flashes and Spots

Overview

In most cases floaters flashes and spots are more irritating than harmful. They appear as shapes such as circles lines or cobwebs that float or flash before your eyes. Floaters are actually shadows cast on the retina by irregularities within the jelly-like substance inside of the eye called the vitreous humor. They can develop during embryonic development or you can acquire them over time.

For most people floaters come with age because the transparent semi-gelatinous vitreous humor thickens and clumps as we grow older. The floaters result from the clumped vitreous. Nearsighted people tend to experience floaters more often than do farsighted people in addition to those who have undergone cataract operations laser surgery or inflammation in the eye. Pregnancy high impact jarring activities and sports blows to the head and eye injuries can also cause floaters. The appearance of new floaters may be an indication of degenerative changes of the retina or changes to the liquid in the cavity of the eye. New floaters especially when accompanied by flashes of light or fleeting white pinpoints may suggest retinal tearing or detachment diabetic retinopathy abnormalities in the arteries of the neck or other vascular irregularities. If you suddenly see new floaters it is prudent to contact your eyecare practitioner immediately. A thorough examination is needed to rule out the dangerous causes before they can be deemed benign.

Symptoms

A sudden decrease of vision accompanied by floaters a veil that obstructs vision a sudden increase in floaters or the appearance of flashes of light in the peripheral field of view warrants an immediate visit to your eyecare practitioner. If unsure about seeing floaters occasionally look at a blank wall or plain background for spots that move or stay suspended in one place. Migraine headaches sometimes follow flashes and occasionally floaters. These specific floaters differ in that they usually twinkle they remain in the same place in the visual field even with head movements and they tend to expand in size over the course of 15-45 minutes before disappearing.

Treatment

If the floaters are bothersome it may help to look up and down and from side to side to move the floaters away from your line of vision. No surgical procedure can remove floaters but they often fade over time. Flashes caused by the vitreous pulling away from the retina are a normal part of aging. The flashes should settle in a few weeks or months. A sudden increase in floaters or flashes that last for more than fifteen minutes requires immediate attention as it may be due to retinal damage. The retina can tear and pull away from its backing causing the appearance of flashes or lightening streaks as it does so. If retinal damage is untreated a small tear can progress into a full retinal detachment where a greater area of the retina pulls away from its backing. The retina is composed of nerve cells which are light receptors. Each one of the cells is attached to the layer below the retina. As these cells come away from the underlying layer during a detachment each cell ceases to transmit light information to the visual centre of the brain and vision in that area is lost.

If not reattached within 24 hours this loss becomes permanent. With early detection surgery is the only way to attempt to repair the retinal damage. It is rare for floaters and flashes to completely cloud vision but should this happen a vitrectomy operation may be necessary. To improve visual clarity a clear saline solution replaces the vitreous natural fluid.



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