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Floaters and Flashes

Small specks or clouds that you see moving about in your field of vision are called floaters. You often see them when looking at a plain background, like a blank wall. Floaters are actually tiny clumps of gel or cells in the vitreous, the clear jelly-like fluid that fills the back of the eye. While often these objects look like they are in front of your eye, they are actually floating inside. What you see are the shadows that they cast onto the retina, the nerve layer at the back of your eye that senses light. Floaters can have different shapes: dots, cobwebs, lines, circles, to name a few.

Questions about Floaters

Q:What causes them?

Small specks or clouds that you see moving about in your field of vision are called floaters. You often see them when looking at a plain background, like a blank wall. Floaters are actually tiny clumps of gel or cells in the vitreous, the clear jelly-like fluid that fills the back of the eye. While often these objects look like they are in front of your eye, they are actually floating inside. What you see are the shadows that they cast onto the retina, the nerve layer at the back of your eye that senses light. Floaters can have different shapes: dots, cobwebs, lines, circles, to name a few.

Q:Can floaters ever be serious?

When people reach middle age, the vitreous gel will shrink. Oftentimes this gel will pull away from the back wall of the eye, which is called a posterior vitreous detachment. It is a common cause of new floaters. Posterior vitreous detachment is more common in people who: Are nearsighted; Have undergone cataract surgery; Have had YAG laser surgery after their cataract surgery; Have had inflammation inside of their eye; Have had head trauma (such as a car accident). Demonstration of a posterior vitreous detachment Having a posterior vitreous detachment in and of itself is not particularly dangerous, but sometimes as the vitreous is pulling away from the back of the eye, it can tear the retina. A torn retina is a serious problem, since many of these retinal tears will go on to become retinal detachments. A large horseshoe tear of the retina You should call your ophthalmologist if you see the following: New floaters, especially if you are over the age of 45; You see sudden flashes of light; The loss of side vision, like someone is drawing a “curtain” across your vision. If you notice loss of your side vision, you should contact your ophthalmologist immediately!

Q:What can be done about floaters?

If you see new floaters, your ophthalmologist should be contacted to make sure that you don”t have any retinal tears or detachments. Floaters themselves can be quite annoying, especially when reading. You can try moving your eyes up and down to move the floaters out of the way. While some floaters may remain in your vision, many will fade over time and become less bothersome. You should still have an eye examination if you notice new floaters, even if you have had some floaters for years.