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Flashes & Floaters

Many people experience annoying symptoms known as flashers and floaters in the eye — the likelihood of these problems increases during and after middle age.  Although harmless, flashes and floaters could be a sign of a more severe condition. If you see more flashes and floaters than normal, contact your doctor at Grand Rapids Ophthalmology.

Chart Showing How Flashes and Floaters Affect the Eye

What Is a Floater?

Floaters are specks or threads that sometimes appear in people’s field of vision. A floater is a tiny cluster of cells or protein lodged in the vitreous humor. The vitreous is a clear gel in the back of the eye that connects to the retina. Although floaters look like they appear in the front of the eye, they are located in the back of the eye. Floaters are shadows of the cell clusters across the retina. They tend to drift across the eye when it is moving. They are most evident against a plain or white background.

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What Causes Floaters?

As we age, the vitreous gel in the back of the eye tends to become more liquefied. Tiny particles of the vitreous may break loose in the back of the eye. They may also float in the liquid part of the vitreous, and this creates small dots or thread-like images known as floaters.

Are Floaters Dangerous?

Seeing occasional floaters across the eye is generally not dangerous. A sudden appearance of a “shower”, many floaters, or a veil or shadow could be a symptom of a more serious retinal problem, such as a retinal detachment. A retinal detachment is a medical emergency, and it is best to contact your eye doctor to request an urgent evaluation.

Is There Any Way To Treat Floaters?

In general, doctors do not recommend treatment for occasional floaters as they tend to fade or go away over time. Doctors recommend looking up or down, or side to side to move them out of the field of vision.

A newer treatment for large or troublesome floaters is Laser vitreolysis. During this procedure, a laser beam focuses on the pupil of the eye. The laser then breaks up the floaters. The ophthalmologist inserts anesthetic eye drops that help numb the eye. A special type of contact lens on the eye and then use the laser machine to deliver the laser energy to dissolve the floaters. The entire procedure takes less than a half-hour. After this in-office procedure, you may experience some mild discomfort, redness, or blurry vision, but this usually resolves quickly.

What Are Eye Flashes?

Flashes look like flashing lights or lightning streaks across your eye. They can be a small flash in one spot or several flashes across a wider area.

What Causes Eye Flashes?

  • Torn, pulled or detached retina
  • Trauma to the eye
  • Ocular migraines

Are Flashes Dangerous?

Although occasional flashes can happen as we age, they can also be indicative of a torn or detached retina. A detached retina requires immediate treatment to avoid permanent loss of vision. If you experience the following symptoms, you should see an eye doctor immediately:

  • Seeing a lot of flashes
  • New floaters or an increase in the number of floaters
  • A shadow across your side (peripheral) vision
  • A curtain-like covering across part of your vision

Are Flashes Treatable?

If your flashes are due to a retinal tear or detachment, a Grand Rapids Ophthalmology retinal specialist can offer several treatment options. Our fellowship-trained retinal specialists, Drs. Yosef Gindzin and Parin Gohel, are highly qualified to evaluate and treat retinal problems.

Early detection and treatment of retinal tears can prevent a retinal detachment. There are a variety of methods to treat retinal detachment, including:

  • Laser photocoagulation uses pinpoints of laser light to attach the retina to the back of the eye.
  • Pneumatic retinopexy involves the injection of a gas bubble into the eye. After the gas bubble injection, the tear is sealed with a laser. This seal causes pressure to hold the repaired tear in place.
  • Scleral buckling and vitrectomy are two other procedures that reattach a retina.

Are you concerned about your flashes or floaters? Schedule an appointment at one of our convenient locations today.

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