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Flashes/Floaters

Flashes and Floaters Hazle Township and Stroudsburg

Everyday your eyes open to sights. In the flurry of all that visual information, you may have noticed what look like little specks or strings apparently skimming over the surface of your eye. These are called floaters, and they're actually found inside your eye.

Inside the eye

Once light passes through the pupil and the lens, which fine-tunes the focus of your vision, the light sensitive cells at the back of your eye pick it up. These cells are part of the retina. The focused image is projected onto the macula, the centrally located specialized part of the retina at the back of the eye. The retina's cells transform light into electrical impulses that are transmitted to your brain allowing you to see.

The area between the eye's lens and the retina is the vitreous cavity. It's filled with clear, jelly-like vitreous fluid. Within the vitreous fluid are millions of fine intertwined fibers that attach to the retina's surface.

Shadow show

The vitreous fluid may become more liquid as you age. As this happens, tiny bits of proteins (collagen) normally in the vitreous fluid clump together as floaters. You may see dots, lines, circles, or web-like shapes moving in your field of vision. They are easiest to see when you look at a plain, bright background, such as a blue sky. Floaters tend to be gray or whitish in appearance, and they are somewhat transparent.

What you're actually seeing are shadows cast by the floaters on the retina. Once formed, these harmless floaters remain in your eye's vitreous. Your eye adapts so that you ordinarily can ignore them. Rarely, they present a serious annoyance that even more rarely must be treated with surgery. Floaters are more common in people who are very nearsighted, who have diabetes, or who've had cataract surgery. They also can be associated with many different types of retinal disorders.

Vitreous

When tiny bits of protein (collagen) in the vitreous fluid being to clump together, these clumps may show up as floaters.

Age of change

As the vitreous becomes more liquid with eye disease or aging, it may collapse so that it pulls away from the back of the eye. This is called posterior vitreous detachment (PVD). It causes many new floaters to appear suddenly. These can look like cobwebs or many small dots. As the vitreous pulls away from the retina, it may tug on the retina and produce flashes of light.

If you experience a sudden increase in floaters or flashes, seek immediate medical care. PVD by itself is usually not a threat to sight, and it requires no treatment. But the eye needs to be carefully examined to be sure there's no accompanying retinal tear. About 15% of eyes that develop PVD with symptoms of floaters and flashes will have a retinal tear that requires urgent treatment to prevent retinal detachment, which may cause partial or possible total vision loss in that eye.

Retinal tear

Sometimes, as the vitreous collapses, those tiny intertwined fibers in the vitreous pull on the retina and cause a tear or rip in the retina, especially if the pull is strong. The pull may even peel the retina away from the back of the eye.

It causes no pain, but it's usually accompanied by a sudden appearance of flashes of light followed by a sudden increase in floaters. If the retinal tear occurs over a blood vessel, you may have some bleeding into the middle of the eye. Red blood cells that end up in the vitreous may appear as tiny black dots that may look like smoke.

Treatment of a retinal tear may be laser photo coagulation or a technique called cryotherapy. Usually, this will prevent retinal detachment, which frequently develops if a tear isn't treated. Retinal detachment requires more complex surgery.

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