Floaters are a common complaint among my patients. They may appear as spots, circles, flecks or ‘cobwebs’ which drift across your field of vision. While annoying, usually they are no cause for concern.
However, there are times when floaters can be a sign of more serious eye health issues.
What are floaters?
Floaters appear when tiny clumps of gel or cells form within the eye’s vitreous (a clear jelly that fills the eye between the lens and the retina). While floaters can occur at any stage, they are more common as the vitreous ages and begins to liquefy.
While floaters appear to be in front of the eye, they are floating inside and what is actually seen are their shadows cast on your retina. They are particularly noticeable when looking
at a plain background.
What are flashes?
Flashes often accompany floaters and can look like flashing lights, stars or lightning streaks in your vision. They occur when the vitreous rubs or begins to shrink and pull away from the retina, a condition called posterior vitreous detachment (PVD).
This can lead to larger, more cloud like opacities in your vision and hence greater visual disturbance. While anyone can develop PVD, particularly as they get older, it is
more common in short-sightedness, after eye surgery and inflammation or
with eye injury.
When are floaters and flashes an emergency?
A sudden onset of floaters and flashes can indicate more serious issues such as a retinal tear or hole which occurs due to the vitreous pulling on delicate tissue lining the back of the eye.
This can lead to a blood vessel being torn inside the eye causing some people to notice red spots in their vision.
These retinal breaks can lead to a retinal detachment where the inner lining of the back of the eye begins to fall away. A retinal tear is a serious issue requiring laser treatment and a retinal detachment requires surgical repair as soon as possible to prevent permanent loss of vision.
When to seek help
Have your retina examined by your eye care professional if you notice any of the following;
• A sudden increase in size or number
• A sudden onset of flashes
• A shadow or curtain appears to the
side and moves across your vision
• A sudden decrease to your vision
– Owner-optometrist of Eyes of Howick, KRISTINE JENSEN www.eyesofhowick.co.nz