WHAT ARE FLOATERS?
It is very common to see small specks or clouds moving in your field of vision. These are called floaters. They are sometimes more obvious when looking at a white or plain background or a blue sky.
Floaters are actually tiny clumps of gel that originate from the vitreous, which is the clear jelly-like fluid that fills the inside of your eye. They can assume many shapes, including dots, circles, clouds, or cobwebs, and they appear to be located in front of the eye, even though they are actually floating inside the eye.
Posterior Vitreous Detachment
As people reach middle age, the vitreous may begin to shrink and liquefy, forming clumps or strands. It may later pull away from the back wall of the eye, causing a posterior vitreous detachment. The sudden onset of a large floater or a burst of floaters usually accompanies this condition. Any sudden floaters should prompt one to see an ophthalmologist right away, especially if you are over 45 years of age.
What happens if I have a vitreous detachment?
Most vitreous detachments do not affect the remainder of the eye. The floaters will typically fade over time and become less bothersome, although some may remain in your vision. On occasion, the detachment of the vitreous may actually cause a tear in the retina. The retina is akin to the film in a camera, and a torn retina is a very serious problem that can lead to a retinal detachment. This is why anyone with new floaters, especially if accompanied by flashes of light, should see their ophthalmologist as soon as possible. A retinal detachment is typically repaired with surgery. The sooner the intervention the better for final visual outcome.
What are flashes and are they serious?
Flashing lights without floaters may also signify a tear or detachment of the retina and should be investigated. Flashes may appear on and off for months, and may become more common as we age. Some people experience flashing lights that appear as jagged lines or “heat waves” in both eyes, lasting up to 10-20 minutes. These episodes may precede or follow a headache, and are felt to be a type of migraine. All patients with migraine need to be examined in order to ascertain whether any retina or vitreous problems are present.