Flashes and Floaters: What They Really Mean - Art of Optiks
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Flashes and Floaters: What They Really Mean

Unless you’re attending a laser light show, the last thing you want to deal with is cloudy spots or flashes of light in your field of vision. These eyesight issues are commonly referred to as flashes and floaters. While they are usually harmless, they could indicate severe eye conditions that may result in vision loss. 

Since your eyesight is a beautifully complex system, it’s susceptible to a range of problems. This is why it’s vital to notice the telltale signs of ocular diseases to seek out proper treatment. Read on to learn more about flashes and floaters and what they mean about vision health.

What Are Flashes and Floaters?

Flashes and floaters are false lights or blurred spots that affect your vision. Both issues are experienced either on their own or together and are generally harmless. Then again, they can also be indicators of problems within your eyes, especially if they abruptly appear or increase in number. Let’s take a closer look at what these two issues are and how they impact your eyesight.

Flashes

Flashes are sparks or trails of light that cross your vision. If you were to look at a two-dimensional cut of your eyeball, you’d see that there is a gel-like space that covers the back two-thirds of the eye. This space, known as the vitreous humor, connects the images captured by the retina to the light-sensitive cells at the back of the eye. Then, these cells transfer the information to your brain via the optic nerve. 

These flashes appear when the vitreous gel tugs, rubs, or slides against the retina, and they can be described as:

  • A camera-like flash
  • A jagged lightning-like light
  • Bright streaks or spots of light

Floaters

Floaters is a term used to describe threads, specks, or cobweb-like images that seem to “float away” when you try to focus on them. Floaters are little build-ups of proteins or cells that get stuck in the vitreous and cast a shadow onto your retina, which is why they appear to move as you move your eyes. While flashes resemble flashes of light, floater may appear as:

  • Black or dark spots
  • Squiggly lines
  • Cobweb-like strands
  • Thread-like shapes
  • Spots

Since there are so many variations, floaters may appear different from person to person.

What Causes Floaters and Flashes?

While some people who experience migraines are prone to developing flashes, others may experience flashes due to damaged or aging eyes. Floaters, on the other hand, can be a direct result of several conditions that make individuals susceptible to them, including:

  • Post-cataract surgery
  • Diabetes
  • Inflammation
  • Eye medication
  • Torn retina
  • Post-major eye surgery
  • Nearsightedness
  • Age (specifically anyone 50+)

Because there are many potential problems associated with flashes and floaters, it’s a great idea to contact your eyecare provider if you notice significant changes.

Warning Signs of Eye Conditions

While flashes and floaters usually are harmless, they can also signal potentially serious conditions. One such example is the shrinking of the vitreous humor that normally comes with age. 

As it shrinks, it begins to pull away from the retina, in a condition called posterior vitreous detachment. While it usually won’t affect your vision, it could lead to a tear in the retina. The new retinal tear then becomes classified as retinal detachment and could lead to vision loss. While retinal detachment can occur spontaneously, it’s also caused by trauma to the eye region.

So, how do you know if this is happening to you? While both retinal detachment and retinal tears don’t cause pain, they are eye emergencies that show eye damage warning signs, such as:

  • Rapid onset of flashes and floaters
  • Swift decline in central vision
  • Gradual one-sided loss of vision

If these issues appear out of the blue, they could lead to vision loss if left untreated for too long. This is why it’s a great idea to schedule a comprehensive eye exam so that your doctor can fully assess the situation.

Treatment Options for Flashes and Floaters

If you are noticing new flashes and floaters, it’s time to seek out immediate emergency help. Your doctor will evaluate the severity of your tear and refer you to a specialist where one of the following procedures may be used to treat your retinal tear:

  • Laser photocoagulation
  • Cryopexy
  • Pneumatic retinopexy

While there are a few different methods of preventing retinal tears from spreading, laser photocoagulation is one of the most common. This eye surgery uses a laser to create a series of tiny burns around a retinal tear, building a barrier of scar tissue that prevents it from spreading. If the retina has detached, ask your doctor about two potential operations that help, including scleral buckling and vitrectomy. 

As with any significant surgical procedure, there are risks and benefits. If your doctor doesn’t deem your floater a sign of retinal damage, it might not be worth the risk to seek treatment. However, you won’t know the severity of the issue until you seek help.

Could These Issues Go Away On Their Own?

Once your doctor establishes that your floaters or flashes don’t pose a problem, you’ll need to decide if you want an elective procedure to correct them. Unfortunately, there are no home remedies to eliminate floaters since they can be a natural part of aging. 

While they won’t necessarily go away, they can reduce in size to a point where your brain tricks itself into thinking they are gone, alleviating some of the issues over time. You can also ask your doctor for tips and tricks on shifting non-problematic floaters out of your field of vision.

Seek Relief From Flashes and Floaters 

To diagnose flashes and floaters, seek out the eyecare doctors at Art of Optiks. Our trusted team will provide a comprehensive eye exam, diagnose the problem, and offer solutions catered to your unique needs.

At Art of Optiks, our team understands how frustrating flashes and floaters can be, which is why we urge you to seek urgent help as soon as you notice them. If a retinal tear is present, we will guide you through your options and provide pre- and post-surgical care instructions to ease any uncertainty you may have.

Schedule your next appointment at either our Wayzata or Edina locations. Our team is ready to help you start your journey to better eyesight today!

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