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Flashes and Floaters


If you sometimes see small specks or clouds, these are called floaters. You will often see them when looking in the distance or at a plain background like the blue sky or a blank wall. Floaters are tiny clumps of gel or cells inside the vitreous. The vitreous is the clear gel-like fluid that fills the inside of your eye. These tiny clumps may look like they in the front of your eye, however, they are actually floating inside of it. You are seeing the shadows they cast on the retina. Floaters can be many different shapes and sizes. They can appear as clouds, cobwebs, lines or dots.

Why do we have floaters?

As we get older, the vitreous gel may start to thicken and shrink and can form clumps or strands inside the eye.  A common cause of floaters is that the vitreous gel pulls away from the black wall of the eye, causing a posterior vitreous detachment.  

Posterior vitreous detachments are more common in people who have had inflammation inside the eye.  It is also more common in those who are nearsighted, have undergone cataract operations and have had YAG laser surgery of the eye.  

You should contact Dr. Harkins if you develop new floaters especially if you are over 45 years of age.  Floaters can be a symptom of a serious problem.  A retinal tear can occur if the shrinking vitreous gel pulls away from the wall of the eye.  It can also cause bleeding in the eye that may appear as new floaters.  

A retinal tear is a very serious problem and can lead to a retinal detachment.  You should call Dr. Harkins as soon as possible if even one new floater appears suddenly or you see sudden flashes of light in your peripheral vision.  If you notice any other symptoms such as the loss of your side vision you should call Dr. Harkins immediately.

Most floaters are harmless and may fade over time and require no treatment.  Surgery to remove floaters is seldom required.  Even though you may have had floaters for years, you should schedule an eye examination with Dr. Harkins if you suddenly notice new ones.  

Flashing Lights
If the vitreous gel rubs or pulls on the retina, you may see flashing lights or lightning streaks.  
As we grow older, it can be more common to experience flashes.  If you begin to notice the sudden appearance of light flashes, you should contact Dr. Harkins immediately to check to see if you may have a torn retina.  

Migraine headaches may cause some people to see flashes of light.  They may appear as jagged lines or heat waves in both eyes.  If a headache follows the flashes, it is called a migraine headache.  If jagged lines or heat waves occur without a headache, the light flashes are called ophthalmic migraine.  Contact Dr. Harkins if you experience any of these symptoms.

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