What Causes Floaters And Flashes In Eye
For the most part, floaters are a natural part of aging and really are not cause for alarm- unless they are accompanied by flashes of light. Let’s take a look at what floaters and flashes are and what some of the common causes are.
Floaters appear as small circles, cobwebs, dots, lines, or specks in your vision field. While it seems like they are floating in front of your eyes, they’re actually floating inside of the vitreous humor. They are actually tiny clumps of material/cells in the vitreous humor that fills your eyes, helping them to maintain their shape. What you are actually seeing are the shadows that are cast on your retina by these clumps.
You are much more likely to notice the eye floaters when you are looking at something plain, such as a clear blue sky or a blank wall.
You should know that eye floaters are actually a fairly typical part of aging. As we get older, the vitreous humor in our eyes thickens and shrinks. In some cases, strands and/or clumps form in it. If your vitreous ends up pulling away from the back of your eye- known as posterior vitreous detachment- it can cause you to experience eye floaters. These are really not all that serious and over time, will fade or even go away entirely.
If you have severe floaters, you can have this surgically corrected- but surgery comes with risks and is typically not needed. You are at an increased risk of developing floaters if the following is true:
- You are nearsighted
- You have had cataract surgery
- You have swelling/inflammation in your eye
- You have experienced an eye injury
- You have had YAG laser surgery
Flashes appear as lighting streaks or flashing lights in your vision field. In some cases, they can be described as “stars” after a blow to the head. You might experience occasional flashes (off and on) for several weeks or even several months. These flashes occur when your vitreous humor is rubbing or pulling on your retina. As we age, flashes are common- but there are some cases that can indicate something more serious.
In some cases, people see flashes that appear to be heat waves or jagged lines. These can occur in one eye or both and can last as long as twenty minutes. This flash could be related to a migraine headache- which is a spasm of blood vessels in your brain.
When you experience a headache after seeing these flashes, it’s known as a migraine headache. However, in some cases, you’ll see the flash without experiencing the headache. This is known as a “migraine without a headache” or an “ophthalmic migraine.”
Causes of Floaters and Flashes
As we age, both floaters and flashes become more common. As we reach middle age, the gel in the vitreous humor of our eyes shrinks, forming clumps/strands in our eyes. This shrinkage results in the pulling away of the vitreous gel from the back wall of our eye, resulting in posterior vitreous detachment- which is a common cause of floaters. This condition is more common in individuals who: are nearsighted, who have had laser surgery or cataract surgery, have swelling/inflammation, or an eye injury.
Of course, the appearance of eye floaters and flashes can be quite upsetting, especially if the onset is sudden. If you are concerned about retinal detachment or retinal tearing, you should get in touch with an eye specialist as soon as possible- especially if you notice the following symptoms, you are over the age of 45, you have recently experienced a head or eye injury, or you are extremely nearsighted:
- Increase in size of floaters
- Increase in number of floaters
- Suddenly experience flashes
- Loss of peripheral vision
- Appearance of a gray curtain moving across your vision field
- Sudden loss of vision
The truth is that floaters and flashes are a natural part of aging. In some cases, the flashes could indicate other problems. If you experience a sudden change in either eye floaters or flashes, you might want to consider consulting an eye specialist. This will help you find out if you are experiencing retinal detachment or other condition that could lead to loss of vision.