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At times people may develop or notice what looks like a translucent spot or hair-like object that moves around in front of their eye with eye movement.  It is often noticeable when looking at a blank wall.  In addition to these spots there are some people that have noticed what appears to be a quick flash of light, more noticeable at night time.  The specks that are apparent with eye movement are called “Floaters.”  Both flashes of light and floaters are known to be quite annoying, but most times are considered not to be a threat to your eyes.  In some cases those symptoms along with a few others that will be explained later may be an indication of a more serious eye problem.

What is a Floater exactly?

The eye is filled with a jelly-like fluid that fills the cavity inside the eye called the vitreous.  When a small clump of gel forms in the vitreous a “floater” is formed.  Even though it is something that people see in front of their these clumps are actually literally floating in the fluid inside the eye.

What causes floaters?

Usually floaters are part of the aging process, and are more common in people that have had eye injuries, eye surgeries, and are nearsighted.  As we age the vitreous gel shrinks and pulls away from the retina.

What are the flashes of lights I see sometimes?

The flashes that appear visually are similar to the sensation of “seeing stars” when someone is hit on the head.  When part of the vitreous gel pulls separate from the retina an affect that looks like a lightning streak or flash of light occurs.  These particular flashes of light last seconds when they are noticed and often happen periodically for several weeks.

~A person that is prone to Migraines may experience a light display with flashes as well.  This occurrence is different compared the flashes that occur with floaters in what is seen by a patient and how long it lasts.  Migraine associated flashes last approximately 10-20 minutes and have often been explained as jagged lines in central view of both eyes and or a heat wave.  A Migraine is caused by a spasm of blood vessels in the visual information center of the brain.

When should I be concerned about Flashes and Floaters?

As the vitreous shrinks and pulls on the retina, a tear may take place.  When a tear is through a blood vessel in the retina bleeding may occur.  Blood clots and vitreous gel may appear as a new set of floaters, but are more opaque.  Retinal Tears require medical attention immediately to prevent retinal detachments and permanent visual loss.  These tears are sealed by an ophthalmologist with a special laser.  See below for a visual example of what is seen with a retinal tear.

If you experience any of these symptoms it is always best to call your Ophthalmologist right away to address the issues and bring you in for a dilation evaluation.  Be proactive and make sure to continue scheduling your yearly dilation evaluations with an Ophthalmologist.

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