At some point or another, many of us have experienced the perplexing sensation of seeing unexplained flashes or floating specks in our vision. While they might seem like optical illusions or mere distractions, these phenomena, commonly referred to as "flashes" and "floaters," have specific causes rooted in our eye's anatomy. Let's dive deeper into why they happen and when they might be a cause for concern.
What are Flashes and Floaters?
Flashes: These are streaks or strands of light that you might see around the periphery (edges) of your vision. They can resemble lightning or starbursts, appearing and disappearing quickly.
Floaters: These are small, shadowy shapes that move around in your field of vision. They can appear as dots, lines, cobwebs, or even little "flies." They tend to move when your eyes move, making them seem like they're "floating" across your vision.
Why Do They Happen?
- Vitreous Detachment: The eye is filled with a gel-like substance called the vitreous. As we age, the vitreous can begin to shrink and pull away from the retina, leading to what's known as a posterior vitreous detachment (PVD). As this happens, you might see flashes due to the vitreous tugging on the retina. The floaters, on the other hand, can be caused by tiny bits of the vitreous gel or cells that break free within the eye.
- Retinal Tear or Detachment: Sometimes, as the vitreous pulls away, it can tear the retina along with it. This can lead to a sudden increase in floaters or flashes. This is a more severe situation, as untreated retinal tears or detachments can lead to permanent vision loss.
- Other Causes: While PVD and retinal issues are common causes, other potential sources include:
- Bleeding inside the eye: This can be due to conditions like diabetic retinopathy, an injury, or other vascular abnormalities.
- Inflammation: Inflammation inside the eye (uveitis) can release debris into the vitreous, causing floaters.
When Should You Seek Medical Attention?
While occasional floaters are usually benign, a sudden increase in their number or the sudden onset of flashes might indicate a more serious issue, such as a retinal tear. If you notice any of these changes, it's essential to see Dr Murthy promptly.
- A sudden surge in the number of floaters.
- Flashing lights in one or both eyes.
- A loss of side vision.
- Shadows or a "curtain" descending over your vision.
Although natural vitreous changes can't be prevented, it's essential to shield your eyes from conditions or injuries that might trigger floaters or flashes:
- Employ protective eyewear during sports or high-risk activities.
- Manage medical conditions, especially diabetes, which can affect eye health.
- Regularly schedule eye examinations.
The complex workings of our eyes are nothing short of intriguing. While flashes and floaters are common and often a normal part of aging. Understanding their causes and recognizing when they might be signaling a more pressing issue can safeguard your visual health.
For any further questions or concerns regarding eye health, please feel free to reach out to Dr. Murthy. Here's to clear, healthy vision!
Always seek professional medical advice for any eye-related concerns. This blog is informational and should not replace Dr. Murthy's consultation.
- WebMD. "Eye Floaters, Flashes, and Spots.", [https://www.webmd.com/eye-health/benign-eye-floaters]
- Sebag, J. (1989). The vitreous: structure, function, and pathobiology. Springer-Verlag.
- Mayo Clinic. "Eye floaters and eye flashes.", [https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/eye-floaters/symptoms-causes/syc-20372346]
- Johnson, M. W. (2010). Posterior vitreous detachment: evolution and complications of its early stages. American Journal of Ophthalmology, 149(3), 371-382. e1.
- American Academy of Ophthalmology. "What Are Floaters and Flashes?", [https://www.aao.org/eye-health/diseases/what-are-floaters-flashes]