Flashes and Floaters

Flashes and floaters are a common sight for many people, the first appearance can be startling.  Floaters is a term to describe specks, threads, or cobweb-like images that drift along your line of vision. Flashes are sparks or strands of light that flicker across the visual field. Both flashes and floaters can be a warning sign of trouble in the eye, especially when they suddenly appear or increase in frequency.

Causes 

Posterior Vitreous Detachment (PVD)

Aging is the most common reason a posterior vitreous detachment occurs, though trauma can also be a cause. As the vitreous body separates from the retina,  floaters and flashes are common symptoms and usually resolve with time. A posterior vitreous detachment is a normal aging process, but it is important to have a dilated exam with an ophthalmologist or optometrist to ensure the vitreous separates cleanly, and no retinal holes, tears, or detachments develop.

Retinal Holes and Tears

​Retinal holes and tears can be caused by a variety of conditions including PVD, high myopia (nearsightedness), and trauma.  Symptoms of retinal holes and tears commonly include flashes and floaters but may present with no visual symptoms.  It is important to have a dilated exam with an ophthalmologist if you are diagnosed with a retinal hole or tear.  Retinal holes and tears are usually treated with in-office procedures including laser therapy or cryotherapy which adhere the retina to underlying layers of the eye to prevent a retinal detachment .  If a retinal tear or hole is left untreated,  fluid may accumulate under the retina, causing a retinal detachment.

Retinal Detachment

The retina is composed of nerve tissue at the back of the eye that transmits light signals to your brain. The vitreous body is the fluid that fills the middle of the eye. As people age, the vitreous body often separates from the retina causing a posterior vitreous detachment (PVD).  As the vitreous separates from the retina, there is a possibility that the retina will develop a tear or detachment. A retinal detachment (RD) is a serious condition where the retina has separated from other layers of the eye. Common causes include retinal holes or tears, trauma, traction, or high myopia. As vitreous fluid pools under the retina, that area loses it ability to provide vision. A retinal detachment requires urgent treatment, and if left untreated, may lead to severe vision loss or blindness.

Diagnosis and Testing

  • A dilated examination is necessary to diagnose any signs of posterior vitreous detachment, retinal holes and tears, and retinal detachments. Additional testing helps an ophthalmologist diagnose and monitor these conditions.