Monthly Archives: April 2016

Flashers and Floaters

By Dr. Carissa M. Barina, Ophthalmologist

The majority of us will experience an occasional speck, spot or hair-like structure floating in our field of vision. When they come from inside the eye, they are termed floaters.

Most frequently it is a nuisance and of little or no concern, but sometimes it is a harbinger for a sight-threatening condition such as a retinal detachment. How do you know which is which? This can be difficult to discern.

There is a clear gel-like substance that fills the eye called vitreous. It is the consistency of gelatin when we are born. Over time, small clumps of cells or connective tissue can form in the vitreous. When the light passes through the eye hits them a shadow is cast on the retina, or sensing part of the eye, causing a spot in the vision.

These floaters can appear in many forms and configurations — dark spots, indistinct hair-like structures and circles being the most common. Often they move or float through the field of vision with eye movement. Typically, they are not serious and the brain slowly learns to ignore them through a process called neuroadaptation.

In some cases, a larger floater develops when the vitreous gel separates from the back wall of the eye, called posterior vitreous separation. This typically occurs as we age and the vitreous gel starts to liquefy. The gel can then shift or move in the eye and separate from its posterior attachment on the optic nerve. This leaves a much larger and often denser condensation in the gel, in turn, causing a more prominent floater.

It often is associated with flashes or streaks of light in the peripheral vision called photopsias, as the vitreous gel may also tug on its anterior attachment to the retina, irritating it.

Rarely, this tugging can cause a retinal hole — a tear that allows fluid to pass under the retina causing it to detach. The detached retina is separated from its underlying blood supply, which is sight threatening and often requires urgent treatment.

Typically, symptoms of a retinal detachment are more intense like a shower of floaters and flashes. But not always so. Therefore, is imperative to have an eye exam as soon as possible after of the onset of symptoms.

Other causes of floaters are bleeding in the eye from trauma or diabetic retinopathy. Or less commonly, inflammation in the eye.

Regardless of the etiology or cause of the floaters, they do not go away. They may become less noticeable, but brighter lighting conditions or use of backlighting such as a computer or handheld device may make them more apparent.

In rare instances when the floaters are large, sheet-like, and interfere with the overall clarity of the vision, surgical removal may be indicated.

If you are concerned about floaters or flashers impeding your vision, call the Indiana Eye Clinic today to schedule an exam. Or click here to request an appointment online!