Though typically harmless, bothersome floaters and sudden flashes in your eyesight can be signs of eye diseases requiring emergency care.
Floaters are projected by clumps within the vitreous, the jelly filling your eye. Flashes happen when the vitreous tugs on the retinal wall.
How do you know if you suffer from floaters or flashes?
Symptoms Develop Suddenly and Most Disappear Immediately
Floating Spots in Your Field of Vision
As you shift your eyesight, floaters appear as spots, specks, circles, or “cobwebs” that block your field of vision.
Sudden Flashes in Your Vision Can Be Alarming
Many describe the experience as seeing flashing lights, streaks of lightning, or “seeing stars.”
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Age-Related Flashes and Floaters are Common
Although you can experience flashes and floaters at any age, your chances of seeing them increase as you get older. Aging causes the gel inside of your eyes to shrink, forming clumps. These clumps project shadows onto the retina and cause floaters. Alternatively, shrinkage causes tugging on the retina, which you experience as flashes. However, these can also be symptoms of a more serious retinal disease.
Which Factors Can Contribute to Floaters and Flashes?
Age-related floaters and flashes occur as the jelly inside of your eye shrinks away from the retina, creating clumps or pulling on your retina. More than 50 percent of patients over the age of 70 experience floaters.
Weak capillaries in the blood can leak blood and create clots in the vitreous. These clots cast shadows on the retina.
You should seek immediate medical attention if you experience sudden symptoms. Usually presenting itself as a sudden onset of flashes, floaters, or vision loss, retinal detachment occurs when the retina is pulled away from the back wall of your eye. Delaying treatment can result in permanent vision loss.
"Most causes of new floaters and flashes can be determined through a clinical exam by an ophthalmologist."
- Kellogg Eye Center
Is There A Way to Prevent Floaters and Flashes?
Attend Regular Eye Exams
Your doctor can diagnose your symptoms and address serious issues during a routine eye exam, reducing your chances of total vision loss.
Stay in Good Overall Health
As diabetes has been linked to floaters, maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help you control your glucose levels and reduce your risk of diabetes.
Protect Your Eyes
As some floaters are caused by trauma, you should be careful to avoid impacts with your eyes. Wear protective goggles when working or participating in contact sports. To avoid cataracts, wear sunglasses and avoid prolonged sun exposure.
Call A Doctor Immediately If You Experience Sudden Heavy Flashes and Floaters
If you experience a sudden, heavy, and persistent onset of flashes and floaters, contact a doctor immediately. These can be signs of a retinal tear or detachment, which can lead to permanent vision loss if left untreated.
Your doctor will dilate your eyes using eye drops to check for a retinal tear and determine whether the floaters or flashes are caused by any diseases. Depending on the source of your symptoms, your doctor may perform additional testing, including a slit lamp exam.
Symptoms Develop Suddenly and Most Disappear Immediately
If your doctor determines that your symptoms are not being caused by retinal disease, you may wait and find that the spots become less noticeable or disappear entirely. Often, surgery poses a higher risk of complication compared to the inconvenience of floaters and flashes.
Get Temporary Relief
An executive editor for Harvard Medical School recommends moving your eyes up and down or left to right to shift floaters out of your field of vision.
Ask About Laser Treatment Or Surgery
Laser treatment studies have been inconclusive, and a vitrectomy poses a higher risk to your eye health than leaving the floaters and flashes untreated.
Retinal Detachment Treatment
Thanks to modern technology, 90 percent of retinal detachment cases can be successfully treated with laser treatment or cryopexy to reattach the retina to the back wall of the eye.
Floaters and Flashes FAQs
Can I do anything to prevent my floaters?
We understand how pesky these apparitions can be, especially if they obstruct your vision. Unfortunately, you will not be able to prevent these on your own. Our skilled providers at Wicker Park Eye Center can help to diagnose and treat your floaters and flashes to resolve the issue permanently.
Will flashes and floaters ever disappear?
Typically, time helps to resolve floaters and flashes. You may notice them changing or dissipating when you move your eyes. However, if an underlying issue is causing these irritations, it is best to have your eye doctor examine you to make sure nothing more serious is going on.
Are flashes and floaters common?
Yes, many people experience these! You can rest assured that it is normal to experience floaters and flashes. However, if you notice abrupt changes to your vision, you will want to have your provider check you out.
Are migraine headaches and eye flashes related?
Migraines and eye flashes may have a relationship in certain cases. Visual disturbances, such as eye flashes, can sometimes be a symptom of a migraine. These symptoms are called auras and can include flickering lights, zigzag lines, or blind spots in your vision. Typically, auras last for about 20 to 60 minutes and are followed by a headache. However, not everyone who experiences migraines will have auras or eye flashes. If you experience severe eye flashes or any other visual disturbances along with your migraines, it's important to speak with your Wicker Park Eye Center practitioner or primary care physician. They can help determine the underlying cause of your symptoms and provide appropriate treatment.
Can stress cause eye floaters and flashes?
Stress is not a direct cause of eye floaters and flashes, but it can exacerbate existing symptoms or make them more noticeable. If you are experiencing heavy eye floaters or flashes, it's important to talk to our team in Chicago, IL to determine the underlying cause.
Can eye floaters and flashes be caused by medications?
Some medications, such as corticosteroids or certain antibiotics, may increase the risk of developing eye floaters and flashes. If you are taking medications and experiencing these symptoms, it's important to talk to your doctor at Wicker Park Eye Center.
Call Your Eye Doctor
Although 90 percent of patients with flashes and floaters are not bothered or affected by them, you should consult your doctor immediately if you have a sudden increase in floaters and flashes or if you experience sudden vision loss, as these can be signs of serious, vision-threatening retinal disease.