Flashes and Floaters / Retinal Detachment
Floaters and Flashing Lights
Floaters are very common and occur more frequently in older people. They look like small dots, lines, specks, or cobwebs in your vision. You may also see flashing lights.
Floaters are caused by clumps of gel or cells floating in the gel-like substance that fills your eyes, called the vitreous. Floaters normally affect one eye but can affect both eyes at the same time.
What causes floaters?
The most common cause of floaters is a vitreous detachment. Vitreous fills your eyes and touches the back of the eye (retina). As we age, the vitreous changes in consistency from a gel to a liquid, which can cause it to detach from your retina. This happens when pockets of liquid move to sit between the retina and the gel-like parts of the vitreous. Your retina can then see clumps of gel or cells floating in front of it.
Sometimes a vitreous detachment can cause holes or tears in your retina. Some retinal tears can lead to retinal detachment, where a large part of your retina peels away from the blood vessels that supply it with vital nutrients and oxygen. A retinal detachment can cause blindness if it isn’t repaired with surgery.
If you notice a sudden increase in the number of floaters in your vision, it is important to see your eye doctor urgently as you may have a retinal tear or retinal detachment.
A less common cause of floaters is diabetic retinopathy. This condition occurs in diabetics and causes blood vessels that supply the retina to leak. These leaky vessels damage the retina and can cause floaters.
What causes flashing lights with floaters?
Flashing lights are seen with both vitreous detachment and retinal detachment. Since a vitreous detachment is more benign, and a retinal detachment may cause permanent vision loss, it is extremely important to see your eye doctor immediately when experiencing flashes of light in your vision. The only way to distinguish between the two is a dilated eye exam.
Should you be worried about floaters?
Floaters are usually harmless but if you notice a sudden increase in the number of floaters in your vision, you should visit your eye doctor urgently. If you have a bad retinal tear or a retinal detachment, your eye doctor can help you get urgent treatment to prevent serious damage to your vision.
Retinal detachment happens when your retina separates from the tissue at the back of your eye. This is a serious condition. If it isn’t repaired urgently with surgery, it can cause blindness.
What causes retinal detachment?
The most common cause of retinal detachment is a vitreous detachment. This occurs when the gel-like substance that fills your eye (the vitreous) pulls away from the retina. This is more common in older adults as the vitreous changes from a gel to a liquid with age – pockets of liquid slip between the retina and gel-like parts of the vitreous and cause a vitreous detachment. The force of the vitreous pulling away from the retina can cause the retina to peel away from the tissues at the back of the eye.
Retinal detachments can also occur due to trauma. They are also more common in moderate-severely nearsighted patients, as their retina is thinner than average.
What are the risk factors for retinal detachment?
The most common risk factors for retinal detachment are:
- age – you are more likely to experience vitreous detachment as you get older, which in some cases, can cause retinal detachment
- being very nearsighted
- past eye injuries
- family history of retinal detachment
What are the symptoms of retinal detachment?
- a sudden increase in floaters
- suddenly seeing flashes of light
- a shadow in your side vision
- a gray curtain obscuring part of your vision
If you have any of these symptoms, you should make an urgent appointment with your Best Eye Doctor in St Louis.