FLASHES & FLOATERS
Floaters are opaque particles, which float inside the eye and cast shadows on the retina, the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye.
The eye is filled with a clear jelly called the vitreous (think of raw egg white). Commonly, tiny remains of blood vessels are left floating in this jelly when the eye forms before birth. In the older eye, strands of protein may develop in the jelly. If these particles are large enough, they may be seen as “floaters”.
What are the symptoms?
Floaters may vary in appearance. Some are only just noticeable, while others may be particularly disturbing as they drift across the field of view. They may appear as spots, threadlike strands, fine cobwebs or just as dull shadows. Because floaters move as the eye moves, they drift away when looked at directly. The shadows caused by floaters seem especially obvious when you look at the sky or white background.
Are floaters significant?
Floaters are common and most people see floaters at some time or other during their life. As age increases, the jelly close to the retina becomes more liquid and eventually separates from the posterior retina, allowing the floating particles to move freely.
Though commonly observed and usually normal, the sudden development of floaters (particularly multiple fine floaters, ‘clouds’, ‘smoke’ etc) may indicate a more serious problem. These problems include retinal tears or detachment, haemorrhage or inflammation.
Should you experience new floaters or an increase in the number and size of existing floaters, then an eye examination is necessary. If however, your floaters have been unchanged over 6 months, then you have nothing to concern you, as your retina has clearly tolerated the normal ageing process of vitreous separation without threat or damage.
Are floaters preventable or treatable?
No, but over time floaters usually become less of a nuisance. They may gradually move to the bottom of the eye and once floaters have been recognised as harmless at an eye examination, they usually become less annoying.
Flashes of light are occasionally seen, particularly in dim light. Flashes reflect irritation of the retina and can indicate traction. They may warn of potentially serious eye disease such as retinal detachment. An eye examination is necessary if new flashing lights occur.