Definition of Floaters

If you have ever noticed something appearing in your field of vision, which looks like a speck of dust floating through the air, what you are actually seeing is a floater.  The speck that you see is not actually there.  It is actually a small cluster of gelatinous cells that are floating in the fluid that fill your eyes.  Floaters cast a shadow that is perceived by the retina as being an object in your vision.  Floaters may take on many different forms such as:

The Cause of Floaters

As people grow older, the fluid in their eyes may change in different ways.  The fluid or gel in the eyes may change in the following ways:

These changes are among the most common causes of floaters.  People who have had surgery for cataracts, laser eye surgery, have had infections in their eye, and are nearsighted experience posterior vitreous detachment, which is the when the gel detaches itself from the retina.

When a person sees a floater, it may be disturbing since they may appear out of nowhere and could be startling.  If the floaters are seen frequently, you should consult with your ophthalmologist, especially if you are an elderly person.

As the fluid in the eye decreases, there is a possibility that the retina can be damaged.  If this happens, you may experience what seem to be new floaters in the eye.  This is actually a small amount of blood from where the retina was damaged.  When the retina is damaged, it could lead to retinal detachment, which is a very serious problem.  If you notice any changes in your vision such as loss of peripheral vision, rapid flashes of light, and an increase in the amount of floaters, you should consult with an ophthalmologist immediately so they can check to see if you have a torn retina. 

Floaters are very bothersome when you are trying to perform such tasks as driving, reading, or watching television.  Usually, moving your eyes around will get rid of the floaters.  However, some floaters will continue to stay in your vision, and most of them will fade away as time progresses.  Regular eye examinations should be performed if you have ever experienced floaters.  This may help detect problems in your eyes, before they become too serious.

Definition of Flashes

Flashes occur when the fluid in the eyes is pulling on the retina.  You may observe what appears to be a streak of lightning or quick flashes of light in your field of vision.  If you have ever rubbed your eyes until you see stars or streaks of light, then you have experienced flashes.

The Cause of Flashes

These flashes may be reoccurring over a long span of time, primarily as we age.  People who are middle-age are more apt to have these flashes than younger people.  As with floaters, if you notice these flashes occurring more frequently, you should consult with your ophthalmologist as soon as possible to see if you have damage to the retina.  A bright flash of light may cause flashes as well as a hard whack to the head.

People who suffer from migraines commonly experience flashes.  These flashes often last up to 20 minutes.  They may be caused when a blood vessel in the brain is experiencing a spasm, this is called a migraine.  A migraine headache is what happens when you experience a headache after seeing these flashes.  An ophthalmic migraine is described as seeing heat waves or jagged lines like lightning bolts without experiencing a headache. 

A proper examination conducted by an ophthalmologist will consist of the doctor dilating your pupils, so that they can analyze your retina for damage and look for abnormalities in the fluid in the eyes.  You should take somebody with you to this examination because after dilation your eyesight will not return to normal for roughly an hour, so it is not safe for you to drive.

As we age, experiencing floaters and flashes becomes more frequent.  Although they may not be serious, having a regular eye exam is essential.

Source:  The American Academy of Ophthalmology


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