Are eye floaters bad?

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Eye Floaters

Seeing spots or floaters in your eyes for the first time can be disconcerting and even a little alarming.

How do you know whether to worry? Let’s talk about this!

While most floaters are normal, some can be a sign of underlying problems that you should address with your eye doctor.

Here are some things to know about floaters and how to respond.

What are eye floaters—and what are they doing in my eye?

Eye floaters appear as little irregularities that drift slowly across your field of vision. Floaters often look like:

  • Little darkish spots or specks,
  • Threads or strings, or
  • Fragments of cobwebs

Floaters in the eye aren’t optical illusions. They’re little bits of debris floating around in your vitreous: the jelly-like filling of your eyeball that helps keep its shape. Sometimes, as these floaters move around, they cast shadows on your retina. This is what you see.

What causes eye floaters?

Most of the time, age-related changes in your vitreous are the cause of eye floaters. As your eyes get older, the vitreous jelly deteriorates: it becomes more liquid, starts to sag and pull away from the inside of your eyeball, and some of the former gel clumps. The shadows of these stringy bits are what you see.

Floaters can also occur when the vitreous detaches from the surface of your retina. The stimulation of the retina during this process will often cause flashes in the eye. The moment the vitreous pulls away from the head of your optic nerve, it can make a ring-shaped floater appear temporarily.

Occasionally, this detachment will pull a bit of your retina with it. This retinal detachment leaks blood into your vitreous, which appears as a scatter of small dots and needs immediate attention from your eye doctor.

Bleeding and inflammation in the eye, from retinal tears, blood vessel problems or other injuries, tends to cause floaters in general. Floaters can also be small specks of protein and other material that was trapped in your eye as it was forming before birth.

When to call an eye doctor

Eye floaters and flashes in the eye are an urgent matter for your eye doctor, especially if they appear suddenly. They often signal retinal detachments, which could cause blindness.

You should always mention any vision changes or eye problems, whether floaters or something else, to your eye doctor during your regular exams. Floaters are occasionally only visible during eye exams, especially if they are close to your retina.

Treatment for eye floaters

Most eye floaters don’t need to be treated. While learning to cope with them costs some time and frustration, many people are able to ignore them more easily over time.

When floaters are so large or so numerous they impair your vision, your eye doctor may recommend surgery or laser therapy to remove them.

Laser therapy for eye floaters

In laser therapy, your eye doctor aims a laser at the debris in your vitreous in order to break them up and make them smaller and less apparent.

Laser therapy for floaters is still experimental and not widely used. While some people see improvement after laser therapy, others see little to no difference, and the laser can damage the retina if it’s aimed incorrectly.

Surgery for eye floaters

Vitrectomy is a surgery where your eye doctor removes the vitreous in your eye through a small incision, replacing it with a solution to maintain your eye’s shape. Your body naturally creates new vitreous that will gradually replace this solution. Vitrectomy doesn’t always remove eye floaters completely. New floaters can still form afterward, especially if the surgery itself causes bleeding and retinal tears.

While most floaters are harmless, the sudden onset of floaters and flashes can be an urgent warning sign from your eyes. Call your eye doctor any time you experience sudden changes in your eye. Regular eye exams are also important for keeping your doctor up to date on any changes, and so your doctor can help detect floaters and other abnormalities in your eye.

Nothing in this article is to be construed as medical advice, nor is it intended to replace the recommendations of a medical professional. For specific questions, please see your eye care practitioner.

Sergeant & Barber Opticians

Eye Floaters & Squiggly Lines

You may or may not be familiar with the popular American animated comedy Family Guy, but one of it’s lead characters points rather close attention to those pesky squiggly lines we often see in our eyes:

“Oh squiggly line in my eye fluid.
I see you lurking there on the periphery of my vision.
But when I try to look at you, you scurry away.”

Often labelled as eye floaters, spots, specks, flecks and cobwebs, these squiggly lines are actually very common and and aren’t usually a cause of concern.

What are they?

They typically appear when tiny pieces of the gel like ‘vitreous’ substance that surrounds the eyeball breaks loose within the inner back portion of the eye. Before simply dissolving into a watery substance, some of this substance will float around in the centre of the eye, taking the shape and size of what are commonly referred to as floaters.

These spots or squiggly lines are particularly pronounced when you peer at a bright, clear sky or at a white computer screen. Once they have made their way into the centre of your eye, they’ll move as your eye moves, creating the illusion that they are always moving away as you look at them.

As mentioned at the beginning, most of these eye floaters are harmless and most will fade and become less bothersome – but this does carry a a couple of side-notes. If you see many of these floaters, if some are very prominent in your field of vision or if they’re accompanied by flashes of light, you should seek medical attention immediately. The sudden appearance of these symptoms could mean that the vitreous is detaching from the retina or the retina itself is becoming dislodged.

If you have any questions about eye floaters, retina’s or any other eye related topics, do not hesitate to get in touch with us here at Sergeant & Barber Optometrists by contacting us via our website or calling us directly on 01502 568 241.

To book an eye examination today or to speak to a member of our team about any eye care questions you may have, give us a call today on 01502 568241.

Q: What are eye floaters, and are they dangerous?

Floaters accompanied by flashes of light or loss of peripheral vision could be a sign of retinal detachment, a serious condition that needs immediate attention.

“Sometimes the vitreous body fibers can pull some of the retinal nerve cells with them, causing a retinal tear that can lead to a retinal detachment,” Singh says. “This can cause significant damage to vision.” Other possible causes of floaters include blood leakages from tiny vessels in the retina, infections or inflammations of the eye, and, in rare instances, tumors.

RELATED: Looking Disease in the Eye

If the floaters are so severe that vision becomes impaired, your doctor may recommend surgery. Known as a vitrectomy, the procedure involves removal of the eye’s vitreous gel.

“An exam is necessary to determine the best treatment option,” Singh says. “In most cases, the floaters will not be a symptom of something more dangerous, more frequent eye exams may be recommended.”

Do you have a health-related question for Dr. Gupta? You can submit it here. For more health news and advice, visit Health Matters With Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Photo: Alamy

Is there anything as bothersome as an eye floater? Those flashing spots, strands, squiggly lines, and rings dart and drift away and you just cannot look directly at them, no matter how hard you try. Floaters are often most apparent when you are outside or looking at something bright or light in color. Everyone experiences eye floaters once in a while, but they can increase in number and frequency and become distracting. In rare cases, floaters can be an indicator of a more serious eye condition.

What causes eye floaters?

Most floaters are a result of the aging process. About 80 percent of the eye is filled with vitreous humor, a gel-like material that helps the eye keep a round shape. Over time, the gel reduces in volume and pulls away from the back of the eye. Protein strands in the gel, called collagen, become stringy and cast shadows on the retina. These shadows are what cause the floaters.

Some floaters have a very different origin. Eye surgery, eye disease, eye injury or diabetic retinopathy can result in floaters, so talk to your eye doctor if you think that eye floaters are a result of a previous procedure or condition.

Are floaters dangerous?

Most floaters are completely normal and gradually tend to settle at the bottom of the eye, but they do not go away completely. Most people become accustomed to floaters and they can ignore them, but there are some instances when you should not ignore floaters. It may be necessary to call your eye doctor if you notice an increase in eye floaters, eye pain, changes in peripheral vision or see flashes of light.

Although less common, floaters can be symptoms of a retinal tear, retinal detachment, inflammation (uveitis) vitreous hemorrhage, eye tumor or bleeding within the eye, so do not ignore changes in your vision.

Treatments for eye floaters

If you are simply bothered by your floaters, there is no specific treatment. Sometimes, just moving to a location that has lower light can be helpful in minimizing floaters. If your vision is significantly affected by floaters, your doctor may talk to you about a surgical procedure called a vitrectomy. In this procedure, the vitreous humor and collagen strands are removed from the back of the eye and replaced with a salt solution. This operation is not usually recommended unless your vision is being significantly compromised.

Related Article:

What Causes Eye Floaters?

Eye floaters, flashes and spots

Conditions

By Marilyn Haddrill; contributions and review by Charles Slonim, MD

Eye floaters are those tiny spots, specks, flecks and “cobwebs” that drift aimlessly around in your field of vision. While annoying, ordinary eye floaters and spots are very common and usually aren’t cause for alarm.

Floaters and spots typically appear when tiny pieces of the eye’s gel-like

break loose within the inner back portion of the eye.

When we are born and throughout our youth, the vitreous has a gel-like consistency. But as we age, the vitreous begins to dissolve and liquefy to create a watery center.

Some undissolved gel particles occasionally will float around in the more liquid center of the vitreous. These particles can take on many shapes and sizes to become what we refer to as “eye floaters.”

You’ll notice that these spots and eye floaters are particularly pronounced if you gaze at a clear or overcast sky or a computer screen with a white or light-colored background. You won’t actually be able to see tiny bits of debris floating loose within your eye. Instead, shadows from these floaters are cast on the retina as light passes through the eye, and those tiny shadows are what you see.

You’ll also notice that these specks never seem to stay still when you try to focus on them. Floaters and spots move when your eye and the vitreous gel inside the eye moves, creating the impression that they are “drifting.”

When are eye floaters and flashes a medical emergency?

Noticing a few floaters from time to time is not a cause for concern. However, if you see a shower of floaters and spots, especially if they are accompanied by flashes of light, you should seek medical attention immediately from an eye care professional.

The sudden appearance of these symptoms could mean that the vitreous is pulling away from your retina — a condition called posterior vitreous detachment. Or it could mean that the retina itself is becoming dislodged from the back of the eye’s inner lining, which contains blood, nutrients and oxygen vital to healthy function.

As the vitreous gel tugs on the delicate retina, it might cause a small tear or hole in it. When the retina is torn, vitreous can enter the opening and push the retina farther away from the inner lining of the back of the eye — leading to a retinal detachment.

A recent study published in Ophthalmology showed that, among people who experienced the sudden symptom of eye floaters and/or flashes of light, 39.7 percent had a posterior vitreous detachment and 8.9 percent had a torn retina.

Other research has shown that up to 50 percent of people with a retinal tear will subsequently develop a detachment of the retina, which could lead to significant vision loss.

In cases of retinal tear or detachment, treatment must occur as soon as possible so that an eye surgeon can reattach the retina and restore function before vision is lost permanently.

Posterior vitreous detachments (PVDs) are far more common than retinal detachments and often are not an emergency even when floaters appear suddenly. Some vitreous detachments also can damage the retina by tugging on it, leading to a tear or detachment.

Light flashes known as

can occur when your retina receives non-visual (mechanical) stimulation, which can happen when it is being tugged, torn or detached. These light flashes may appear as lightning bolts, flickering lights or random sparks.

What causes eye floaters and spots?

As mentioned above, posterior vitreous detachments (PVDs) are common causes of vitreous floaters. Far less commonly, these symptoms can be associated with retinal tears or detachments that may be linked to PVDs.

What leads to vitreous detachments in the first place?

As the eye develops, the vitreous gel fills the inside of the back of the eye and presses against the retina and attaches to the surface of the retina. Over time, the vitreous becomes more liquefied in the center. This sometimes means that the central, more watery vitreous cannot support the weight of the heavier, more peripheral vitreous gel. The peripheral vitreous gel then collapses into the central, liquefied vitreous, detaching from the retina (like Jell-O separating from the inside of a gelatin mold or bowl).

Eye floaters resulting from a posterior vitreous detachment are then concentrated in the more liquid vitreous found in the interior center of the eye.

It’s estimated that more than half of all people will have a posterior vitreous detachment by age 80. Thankfully, most of these PVDs do not lead to a torn or detached retina.

Light flashes during this process mean that traction is being applied to your retina while the PVD takes place. Once the vitreous finally detaches and pressure on the retina is eased, the light flashes should gradually subside.

What causes eye flashes?

Ordinarily, light entering your eye stimulates the retina. This produces an electrical impulse, which the

transmits to the brain. The brain then interprets this impulse as light or some type of image.

If the retina is mechanically stimulated (physically touched or tugged), a similar electrical impulse is sent to the brain. This impulse is then interpreted as a “flicker” of light.

When the retina is tugged, torn or detached from the back of the eye, a flash or flicker of light commonly is noticed. Depending on the extent of the traction, tear or detachment, these flashes of light might be short-lived or continue indefinitely until the retina is repaired.

Flashes (photopsias) also may occur after a blow to the head that is capable of shaking the vitreous gel inside the eye. When this occurs, the phenomenon sometimes is called “seeing stars.”

Some people experience flashes of light that appear as jagged lines or “heat waves” in both eyes, often lasting 10-20 minutes. These types of flashes are usually caused by a spasm of blood vessels in the brain.

If a headache follows the flashes, it is called a migraine headache. However, jagged lines or “heat waves” can occur without a headache. In this case, the light flashes are called an ophthalmic migraine, or a migraine without a headache.

SEE ALSO: What Is an Ocular Migraine?

Photopsia also can be a symptom of digitalis toxicity, which can occur particularly in older people who take digitalis or related drugs for heart problems.

Other conditions associated with eye floaters and flashes

When a PVD is accompanied by bleeding inside the eye (vitreous hemorrhage), it means the traction that occurred may have torn a small blood vessel in the retina. A vitreous hemorrhage increases the possibility of a retinal tear or detachment. Traction exerted on the retina during a PVD also can lead to development of conditions such as macular holes or puckers.

Vitreous detachments with accompanying eye floaters also may occur in circumstances such as:

  • Inflammation in the eye’s interior
  • Nearsightedness
  • Cataract surgery
  • YAG laser eye surgery
  • Diabetes (diabetic vitreopathy)
  • CMV retinitis

Inflammation associated with many conditions such as eye infections can cause the vitreous to liquefy, leading to a PVD.

When you are nearsighted, your eye’s elongated shape also can increase the likelihood of a PVD and accompanying traction on the retina. In fact, nearsighted people are more likely to have PVDs at a younger age.

PVDs are very common following cataract surgery and a follow-up procedure called a YAG laser capsulotomy. Months or even years after cataract surgery, it’s not unusual for the thin membrane (or “capsule”) that’s left intact behind the intraocular lens (IOL) to become cloudy, affecting vision. This delayed cataract surgery complication is called posterior capsular opacification (PCO).

In the capsulotomy procedure used to treat PCO, a special type of laser focuses energy onto the cloudy capsule, vaporizing the central portion of it to create a clear path for light to reach the retina, which restores clear vision.

Manipulations of the eye during cataract surgery and YAG laser capsulotomy procedures cause traction that can lead to posterior vitreous detachments.

How to get rid of eye floaters

Most eye floaters and spots are harmless and merely annoying. Many will fade over time and become less bothersome. In most cases, no eye floaters treatment is required.

However, large persistent floaters can be very bothersome to some people, causing them to seek a way to get rid of eye floaters and spots drifting in their field of view.

In the past, the only treatment for eye floaters was an invasive surgical procedure called a vitrectomy. In this procedure, some or all of the vitreous is removed from the eye (along with the eye floaters within it) and is replaced with a sterile clear fluid.

But the risks of a vitrectomy usually outweigh the benefits for eye floater treatment. These risks include surgically induced retinal detachment and serious eye infections. On rare occasions, vitrectomy surgery can cause new or even more floaters. For these reasons, most eye surgeons do not recommend vitrectomy to treat eye floaters and spots.

Laser treatment for floaters

Recently, a laser procedure called laser vitreolysis has been introduced that is a much safer alternative to vitrectomy for eye floater treatment. In this in-office procedure, a laser beam is projected into the eye through the pupil and is focused on large floaters, which breaks them apart and/or frequently vaporizes them so they disappear or become much less bothersome.

To determine if you can benefit from laser vitreolysis to get rid of eye floaters, your eye doctor will consider several factors, including your age, how quickly your symptoms started, what your floaters look like and where they are located.

The floaters in patients younger than age 45 tend to be located too close to the retina and can’t be safely treated with laser vitreolysis. Patients with sizable eye floaters located farther away from the retina are better suited to the procedure.

The ophthalmologist who performs laser vitreolysis also will evaluate the shape and borders of your eye floaters. Those with “soft” borders often can be treated successfully. Likewise, sizable floaters that appear suddenly as a result of a posterior vitreous detachment often can be successfully treated with the laser procedure.

What happens during laser treatment

Laser vitreolysis usually is pain-free and can be performed in your ophthalmologist’s office. Just prior to the treatment, anesthetic eye drops are applied and a special type of contact lens is placed on your eye. Then, the doctor will look through a biomicroscope (slit lamp) to precisely deliver the laser energy to the floaters being treated.

During the procedure, you might notice dark spots. These are pieces of broken up floaters. The treatment can take up to a half hour, but it’s usually significantly shorter.

At the end of the procedure, the contact lens is removed, your eye is rinsed with saline and the doctor will apply an anti-inflammatory eye drop. Additional eye drops may be prescribed for you to use at home.

Sometimes, you may see small dark spots shortly after treatment. These are small gas bubbles that tend to resolve quickly. There also is a chance that you’ll have some mild discomfort, redness or blurry vision immediately after the procedure. These effects are common and typically won’t prevent you from returning to your normal activities immediately following laser vitreolysis.

Your doctor will usually schedule follow-up for the following day. At that time, you may need a second treatment.

If you are bothered by large, persistent eye floaters, ask your eye doctor if laser vitreolysis might be a good treatment option for your situation.

Remember, a sudden appearance of a significant number of eye floaters, especially if they are accompanied by flashes of light or other vision disturbances, could indicate a detached retina or other serious problem in the eye. If you suddenly see new floaters, visit your eye doctor without delay.

Page updated March 2017

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What Causes Eye Floaters? Ophthalmologists Explain Those ‘Cobwebs’ You See Sometimes

Picture it: You’re scrolling through Instagram, minding your own business, when all of a sudden a tiny speck floats across your field of vision. It definitely wasn’t anything on your phone screen—so what the heck was it?

The likeliest scenario: You just spotted an eye floater—an often harmless quirk of being a human being with a pair of eyes. But it’d still be nice to know what exactly those little specks are, right? Health asked a few ophthalmologists (aka, eye doctors) to explain what exactly eye floaters are, what causes eye floaters, and when you might need to worry about them. Here’s what you need to know.

What exactly are eye floaters?

So, eye floaters are basically specks or “cobwebs” that float around in your field of vision, according to the National Eye Institute (NEI). But they’re not actually cobwebs; they crop up when the jelly-like substance filling the back of your eye, called the vitreous, beings to liquefy—a process that happens over time, Shameema Sikder, MD, an assistant professor of ophthalmology at Johns Hopkins University’s Wilmer Eye Institute and director of the Center of Excellence for Ophthalmic Surgical Education and Training, tells Health.

Some people notice floaters very easily—that might be related to personality, your job, or simply how visually aware you are—and some people hardly ever notice them, Dr. Sikder says.

In general, floaters don’t cause pain or discomfort, Doug Wisner, M.D., a cataract surgeon at Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, tells Health. People often head to the doctor saying they’re swatting at an insect that’s not really there or say they see a speck in their vision, he says.

RELATED: Everything You Need to Know About Cataracts, According to Ophthalmologists

Really, floaters are part of the aging process, says Dr. Sikder. “A newborn has completely coherent jelly and someone who’s 100 years old basically has this cavity filled with fluid because the jelly has liquefied,” she says. “The transition is kind of like a lava lamp where the bits of jelly are floating around bathed in bits of liquid.” And essentially, that’s what a floater is: a glob or conglomeration of this jelly floating around in the fluid.

Trauma to the head or eye (like a sports injuries, or a car accident) can also precipitate floaters, as can health issues like diabetes or other eye conditions such as macular degeneration, adds Dr. Wisner.

And if you’re very near-sighted (sometimes that means that the eyeball itself is a little longer than the average eyeball), your jelly could liquefy a little faster simply due to the anatomy of your eye, which means you might notice floaters earlier, says Dr. Sikder.

People who are pregnant, undergoing hormonal changes, can have some visual changes, too, and can sometimes have floaters, says Dr. Wisner.

RELATED: 11 Reasons Your Vision Is Blurry–and What to Do About It

So, do you need to worry about eye floaters?

Small floaters coming and going over time with no other symptoms are not abnormal or cause for alarm, says Dr. Wisner.

That said, if you notice a sudden onset of floaters or a floater persisting for over 24 hours, call the eye doctor for further evaluation, he says. Floaters of that magnitude, which occur with flashing lights or a “curtain” coming down on your vision could be an early sign of retinal detachment, says Dr. Sidker.

Retinal detachment happens when, as the jelly is floating around, it actually lifts off the surface of the retina—the wallpaper of your eye—releasing a little flash. If it pulls hard enough, your retina could tear or detach (this might look like a swarm of bugs with a flash of lights), Dr. Sikder says. Retinal detachments are serious conditions and should be treated immediately, says Dr. Sikder; if left untreated, they could lead to blindness.

RELATED: Here’s Why Your Eye Is Twitching—and How to Make It Go Away

How are eye floaters treated?

For most people, most of the time, there’s no real treatment for floaters, says Dr. Sikder. There is the possibility of a retinal surgery to remove the jelly with lasers, essentially eliminating the floaters, but surgeries come with risks—and Dr. Sikder says ths one isn’t necessary or worthwhile.

It is worthwhile, however, to have an eye exam. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends a baseline screening at age 40 (and earlier if you have eye disease risk factors such as diabetes or high blood pressure) then every few years, depending on risk factors, like diabetes or high blood pressure.

“An eye doctor can actually see the floaters that are there and determine exactly what may be causing them—whether they’re just an age-related change, whether there is bleeding in the eye, a retinal issue, or whether there’s something else entirely going on,” says Dr. Wisner.

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Floaters and Flashes

Your Questions About Flashes and Floaters Answered: To view all 5 of the videos in this series, click on the icon in the upper left of the video screen.

What Are Floaters and Flashes?

Floaters

Floaters are small specks or clouds moving in your field of vision. You may see them more clearly when looking at a plain background, such as a blank wall. Floaters are actually tiny clumps of gel or cells inside the vitreous, the clear jelly-like fluid that fills the inside of your eye. Floaters can have different shapes, such as little dots, circles, lines, clouds, or cobwebs.

Though these objects look like they are in front of your eye, they are actually floating inside of it. What you see are the shadows they cast on the retina, the nerve layer at the back of the eye that senses light and allows you to see.

When people reach middle age, the vitreous gel may start to thicken or shrink, forming clumps or strands inside the eye. Floaters often occur when the vitreous gel pulls away from the back wall of the eye, causing a posterior vitreous detachment. In some cases, the retina can tear as the shrinking vitreous gel pulls away from the wall of the eye. A torn retina is always a serious problem, since it can lead to a retinal detachment.

The appearance of floaters may be alarming, especially if they develop suddenly. You should see an ophthalmologist right away if you suddenly develop new floaters.

Flashes

When the vitreous gel inside your eye rubs or pulls on the retina, you may see what looks like flashing lights or lightening streaks. You may have experienced this sensation if you have ever been hit in the eye and see “stars.”

These flashes of light can appear off and on for several weeks or months. As we grow older, it is more common to experience flashes. If you notice the sudden appearance of flashes, you should visit your ophthalmologist immediately because it could mean that the retina has been torn.

Symptoms

You should see your ophthalmologist as soon as possible if:

  • One new, large floater or “showers” of floaters appear suddenly
  • You see sudden flashes of light, especially if these flashes are persistent
  • You notice other symptoms, such as the loss of side vision or if it looks as if a shade or curtain is being drawn over your field of vision

Floaters and flashes become more common as we grow older. While not all floaters and flashes are serious, you should always have a medical eye examination by an ophthalmologist to make sure there has been no damage to your retina.

Causes

Floaters can be caused by normal aging of the eye when the vitreous jelly begins to shrink. Other causes of floaters include the sudden release of blood cells from the retinal blood vessels or pigmented cells from underneath the retina into the vitreous jelly. This can occur with the tearing of the retina. It is not always possible to distinguish between the causes of new floaters in the eye, which is why it is essential to have an immediate ophthalmologic examination to look for retinal holes or tears.

Risk Factors

Aging is a large risk factor for new floaters. People who are very nearsighted (high myopes) are at greater risk of developing floaters earlier in life and are also at a greater risk of a retinal tear or detachment. Inflammation inside the eye (uveitis) and recent intraocular surgery are also risk factors for developing floaters in the eye.

Tests and Diagnosis

Most causes of new floaters and flashes can be determined through a clinical exam by an ophthalmologist. If the cause of the symptoms is not seen during a clinical exam, your ophthalmologist may order additional testing, such as an ultrasound of the eye.

Treatment and Drugs

The treatment for floaters and flashes depends on the underlying condition. While not all floaters and flashes are serious, you should always have a medical eye examination by an ophthalmologist to make sure there has been no damage to your retina.

While some floaters may remain in your vision, many of them will fade over time and become less bothersome. Even if you have had some floaters for years, you should have an eye examination immediately if you notice new ones.

There is no specific treatment for separation of the vitreous gel from the retina although laser or freezing therapy or surgery may be required for retinal tears.

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Reviewed by Jill E. Bixler, M.D.

What Causes Someone to See Stars in Their Vision?

There are several causes of seeing stars in your vision. One is the result of a blow to your head. This type of injury can scatter nerve signals in your brain and affect your vision temporarily.

Something else may be happening inside the eye besides injury. When you see stars inside the eye, you may be experiencing what’s called an entoptic phenomenon. There are various causes for these visual events.

In some cases, pregnant women may experience an increased number of floaters, possibly due to high blood pressure or elevated glucose levels. Floaters are tiny, cloudy spots that seem to drift in and out of your field of vision. They’re actually little clumps of vitreous gel floating inside your eye. Sometimes they can be caused by other conditions, including:

  • tears or holes on the retina
  • poorly controlled blood pressure
  • diabetic retinopathy
  • blood clots in the retinal blood vessels, which are blood vessels that carry blood to your retina
  • viral infections in your eye
  • normal complications from eye surgery
  • autoimmune diseases like lupus
  • ocular tumors

Occipital lobe

Your brain is made up of four main sections, or lobes. The occipital lobe is in the back of your brain. It’s responsible for interpreting the nerve signals from your eye.

If you’re looking at a tree, your retina converts that image of a tree into nerve signals that travel from the retina through the optical nerve to the brain. Your occipital lobe processes those signals so your brain recognizes that image as a tree.

If you get hit on the head, the tissue in your occipital lobe gets shaken up. Brain cells then send out random electrical impulses, which your brain interprets as flashes of light that may seem like stars.

Anatomy of the eye

It doesn’t always take a bump on the head to get stars into your field of vision. To understand why, it helps to know a little more about the anatomy of your eye.

The retina is a thin tissue layer at the back of your eye that is light sensitive. The part of your eyeball directly in front of the retina contains vitreous, a gel-like substance that helps your eye keep its shape. There are also tiny, very thin fibers in the vitreous. When these fibers pull on your retina or the gel rubs against your retina, you may see stars.

If your retina gets pulled too hard or moves out of its usual position, the result can be a retinal detachment. This can cause you to see stars. It can also cause you to lose all or part of your vision in that eye. A detached retina can often be treated successfully with surgery.

Migraine headaches

One other cause of stars in your vision is a migraine headache. Not everyone who has migraines sees stars or colorful lights (which are also known as aura), but many do.

If you see stars or jagged streaks of light but don’t have a headache, you may have ocular migraines. These are treated by ophthalmologists or optometrists, doctors specializing in eye health.

Retinal detachment

If you notice flashes along with seeing spots, it could be a detached retina which is a dangerous condition that requires treatment from an eye doctor immediately.

Retinal detachment symptoms

The NEI (National Eye Institute) says that there could be a gradual or sudden increase in the number of floaters that are accompanied by the flashes. Other symptoms of a detached retina include blurred vision, a shadow that covers the field of vision and a gradual loss of peripheral vision.

Detached retina treatment

Treatment is surgical and could require a vitrectomy. In this case, the vitreous is removed and often the eye is filled with a gas or oil that pushes the retina against the wall of the eye. During the healing process, the gas dissipates, and the eye will produce fluid to take the place of the gas.

A procedure called pneumatic retinopexy can also be used. Other surgical procedures such as indenting the surface of the eye, and draining and removing fluid in the eye are also options.

In these treatments and others, laser or cryopexy is often used to reattach, or “tack” the retina back into place.

Migraine-related Auras

A sensory disturbance that accompanies a migraine, known as an aura, can make it seem like you are seeing colored spots or floaters, but they sometimes precede or occur alongside a migraine; however, auras can also be present without a headache.

Migraine aura symptoms

Usually, the visual symptoms of a migraine with aura don’t last long, but you could experience:

  • A kaleidoscope-like pattern of colored spots
  • Light flashes
  • Blind spots
  • Other patterns, such as zig-zags

These symptoms could happen in both eyes, which could interfere with certain activities like driving. The American Migraine Foundation also lists disruptions in motor skills and speech as possible symptoms of an ocular migraine.

Only 25 to 30 percent of people with migraines experience auras with their migraines, and less than 20 percent experience the visual disruption of auras with every migraine headache.

If the aura symptoms only occur in one eye, which are usually intense and include diminished vision or temporary blindness (lasting up to an hour)you may be experiencing a retinal migraine. Because the cause of this type of migraine is a problem with the retina itself, such as diminished blood flow, it could cause permanent blindness. Certain foods, liquids, medical conditions, tobacco use, altitude and other lifestyle activities and health issues can increase the chance of developing retinal migraine.

What else causes you to see spots?

Although it’s uncommon, you could also be seeing spots due to:

  • Inflammation in the back of the eye which causes debris to be released into the vitreous. This could be caused by inflammatory diseases or infection.
  • Bleeding into the eye which could be caused by diabetes, hypertension or injured blood vessels.
  • Certain medications that are injected into the vitreous can cause bubbles.

The benign conditions that cause individuals to see spots and colored spots are very difficult to distinguish from conditions that lead to permanent vision damage. If you experience any changes in your vision or feel pain in and around your eyes, contact your eye doctor and schedule an exam. An eye doctor is best qualified to diagnose and treat any conditions related to your eyes and ensure continued eye health, and refer you for further evaluation and treatment, if necessary.

If you’re searching for a qualified eye doctor to help you maintain the health of your eyes, make an appointment at Barnet, Dulaney and Perkins, Eye Center today.

Floating black spots or flashes in your eye? Get to an eye doctor right away.

Here’s what can happen to cause floaters and flashes.

You might just have benign floaters caused by cellular debris or condensation in the gel. Sometimes when the gel turns more liquid, the debris moves around more and you notice the change. Or your vitreous gel may be changing structure and tugging on the retina. This also is generally harmless.

The change from gel to a more liquid form happens to everyone, Mehta says. It’s very rare before age 40, but 60 to 80 percent of people will have gone through the transition by age 65. “About 15 percent of people will have symptoms — floaters and flashes” — during this time, she says.

A change in the eye’s vitreous structure can tear the retina, an injury that requires urgent treatment. If not addressed, that tear can advance to a detachment, in which the retina comes away from its base.

“A tear can be easily fixed in an office visit,” Khurana says. While the eye is dilated, the doctor uses a laser to seal the tear, in as little as 10 minutes.

Left untreated, the retina can detach from the back of the eye. In that case, “you might see something like a curtain or shade being pulled over the eye,” Mehta says. The retina loses its blood flow and nutrient source, and it will start to die. Without medical attention — involving more-invasive surgery and a weeks-long recovery period — permanent vision loss will result.

In Muffler’s case, his regular ophthalmologist referred him to Khurana, who extracted the vitreous humor and placed a gas bubble at the back of Muffler’s eye. The pressure from the bubble held the retina in place while the surgical wound healed. “The gas bubble stays in for two weeks,” Muffler says. “I canceled a trip to Europe.”

During recovery from this surgery, vision may be abnormal. As the body absorbs the gas and replenishes the vitreous humor, eyedrops and sometimes an eye patch are needed. Patients are advised to avoid things that cause eye strain, and in some cases, they need to keep their head face down or turned to one side for several days to ensure that the gas bubble stays in place. Clear vision may return slowly, which means no driving during the recovery weeks.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends that people older than 40 get an exam for a baseline measure of eye health even if their vision seems to be fine. “Our eyes go through changes with age, the same as the rest of our bodies,” Khurana says. Other common age-related eye conditions include presbyopia, which reading glasses can correct; cataracts, in which the lens turns yellow and opaque, making vision less crisp, particularly at night; and age-related macular degeneration, in which abnormal blood vessel growth occurs in the retina, potentially causing blurred or distorted vision.

A bonus benefit of a baseline eye exam is that you’ll have an eye doctor to call should you ever experience new flashes or floaters.

The message from Mehta: If you experience new floaters or flashes, get your eyes looked at “immediately — the same day. We have patients all the time who waited weeks or months before coming in. But if we can treat the problem early, they’re more likely to have good visual outcomes. We can prevent permanent vision loss.”

Eye floaters are spots, squiggles or flecks that appear to drift into your visual field. Usually they are harmless, a benign, albeit annoying sign of aging. If however, your floaters are accompanied by a sudden loss of vision, pain or flashes, they could be a sign of an underlying serious eye condition and should be checked out by an eye doctor as soon as possible.

What are Eye Floaters and Spots?

Floaters, like their name, are specks or spots that float in and out of your visual field. Usually they move away when you try to focus on them. They can appear as dark dots, threads, squiggles, webs, or even rings.

But what causes them to appear? Floaters are shadows from clumps of fibers within the vitreous, the jelly-like substance in your eye, that are cast on the retina at the back of the eye. Usually, floaters don’t go away, but you tend to get used to them and eventually notice them less. Patients usually see them more when they are looking at a plain background, like the blue sky or a white wall.

In most cases, there is no treatment for floaters, people just get used to them, however if there are more serious symptoms that accompany them, there could be an underlying problem such as inflammation, diabetes or a retinal tear that needs to be addressed and treated. If the floaters are so serious that they are blocking your vision, a surgical procedure to remove the clumps may be performed.

What Causes Floaters?

Age: Although floaters may be present at any age, they are often more apparent as a result of aging. With time, the fibers in the vitreous begin to shrink and clump up as they pull away from the back of the eye. These clumps block some of the light passing through your eye, causing the shadows which appear as floaters. You are also more likely to develop floaters if you are nearsighted.

Eye Surgery or Injury: Individuals who have previously had an injury, trauma or eye surgery are more susceptible to floaters. This includes cataract surgery and laser surgery as well as other types of eye surgery.

Eye Disease: Certain eye diseases such as diabetic retinopathy, eye tumors or severe inflammation can lead to floaters.

Retinal Tears or Detachment: Retinal tears or detachments can be a cause of floaters. A torn retina can lead to a retinal detachment which is a very serious condition where the retina separates from the back of the eye and if untreated can lead to permanent vision loss.

When to See a Doctor

There are some cases where seeing spots is accompanied by other symptoms that could be a sign that there is a more serious underlying problem. The most common of these is seeing flashes of light. This often happens when the vitreous is pulling on the retina which would be a warning sign of a retinal detachment. Retinal detachment must be treated immediately or you can risk a permanent loss of vision. Flashes of light sometimes also appear as symptoms of migraine headaches.

If you experience a sudden onset or increase in floaters, flashes of light, pain, loss of side vision or other vision disturbances, see a doctor immediately. Further, if you have recently had eye surgery or a trauma and you are experiencing floaters during your recovery, it is advised to tell your doctor.

Generally, floaters are merely a harmless annoyance but keep an eye on your symptoms. As with any sudden or serious change in your health, it is worth having them checked out if they are really bothering you. In some cases, they may be an early warning sign of a serious problem that requires swift treatment to preserve your vision.

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