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Are Floaters and Flashes Dangerous?

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You’ve likely experienced occasional visual “floaters” or flashes and may have wondered what they were and if they are a cause for concern. They look like tiny lines, shapes, shadows, or specks that appear to be drifting in the visual field. Floaters can be normal and may not indicate a problem, but when floaters become more frequent and are accompanied by flashes of light, that can indicate a more serious problem. 

Eye flashes are like seeing a sparkler or star-like specks or strands of light that either flash or flicker in your field of vision. They can either be a single burst in one visual zone, or can be several flashes throughout a wider area. 

Floaters & Flashes 

If you suddenly see flashes or floaters, or start to see them more often, call our office, Family Eye Care, in Old Bridge, NJ.   Schedule an eye exam right away to rule out any serious eye conditions. 

What Causes Floaters?

The vitreous in the eye is a clear gel that fills most of the eyeball.  The vitreous has a consistency that is similar to the clear part of an egg when you open it.  There are small lumps of protein that drift around and move when you move your eyes.  When these tiny lumps of protein cast shadows on the retina — the light-sensitive lining at the back of the eye — the shadows appear as floaters. 

Over time, the vitreous changes, and there are more strands of protein. That is why you may notice floaters more often.  People who are nearsighted tend to have more floaters.  They also occur more frequently in people who have diabetes, and those individuals who have had cataract surgery or an eye injury. 

If seeing floaters becomes bothersome, try moving your eyes up and down or side to side to gently relocate the floaters away from your visual field. 

What Causes Flashes? 

Flashes happen when the vitreous tugs at your retina.  You might then “see stars” or bursts of light. When the vitreous gel comes away from the retina at the optic nerve, it is called a “posterior vitreous detachment” (PVD).  Fortunately, that usually isn’t dangerous.  A Retinal Detachment is very dangerous and cause for alarm because it can cause permanent vision loss.  In about 16% of cases, PVD causes tiny tears in the retina that can lead to retinal detachment — a sight-threatening condition that causes irreversible blindness if left untreated.  

Other possible causes of flashes are eye trauma or migraine headaches. 

Call us if you have Floaters

If you experience any of the following symptoms, call our office for emergency eye care. 

Symptoms You Shouldn’t Ignore

  • A sudden onset of floaters accompanied by flashes (which can be any shape or size)
  • An increase of floaters accompanied by a darkening of one side of the visual field 
  • Shadows in the peripheral vision
  • Any time flashes are seen

In many cases, seeing floaters is no cause for concern; however the above symptoms could indicate retinal detachment.  A Retinal detachment can lead to permanent loss of vision or even blindness. 

If you have these symptoms, call us and we will make a point of seeing you.  We will take a picture of the back of your eye using a special instrument and we will likely dilate your eyes.  The purpose of that is to be able to see your retina to determine if you have a retinal tear or other serious condition.  

Please call our office, Family eye Care in Old Bridge, NJ  at 1-732-679-2020 if you have concerns, have any other questions, or want to schedule an appointment.