The Facts on Flashes and Floaters

Floaters are very common and can be a very scary symptom.  Here is an article I wrote last month for EzineArticles that answers patients’ most common questions about floaters and floaters.

Flashes and Floaters – Get the Facts on This Common Eye Condition

By Dr. Richard A. Driscoll

“Doctor I saw dark spots and flashes of light in my eyes and I thought I should come in and have you make sure everything is alright” are words commonly heard by eye doctors and as a result a common cause of urgent visits to their offices. Flashes or floaters can be the signs of serious problems and as a result they should always be investigated by your eye doctor. Merely having floaters is not generally a problem; it is the recent onset of floaters that requires attention.

Flashes and floaters are the most commonly reported symptoms of changes in the vitreous humor, a very fibrous yet clear gel that makes up the back 2/3 of the eye. Floaters occur when a bunch of these fibers clump together and cast a shadow on the retina, causing a person to see a black spot. Patients often describe these floaters as looking like a cobweb. Nearsighted people experience floaters more often. Most people have some floaters, however they are either small enough that they are not bothersome or the brain has learned to ignore them. With the right lighting conditions almost anyone can see their floaters. Looking up at an overcast sky or a large, lightly colored wall improves ones ability to see their floaters.

Floaters also occur when the vitreous humor starts to transition from a gel to a liquid. This transition usually occurs later in life. The vitreous starts to liquefy, first from the center, causing the gel to collapse on itself and pull away from the retina, often causing a person to see flashes of light or sparkles, soon to be followed by a bunch of floaters. This is called a posterior vitreous detachment and requires a dilated exam of the retina to verify that the retina was not torn when the vitreous pulled away. Flashes are often the first indication that something is pulling on the retina. With time gravity allows the floaters to settle below the line of sight, where they will go unnoticed.

Most flashes and floaters are harmless, however all complaints of flashes or floaters, of a recent onset, require a dilated exam. Occasionally, the pulling on the retina by the vitreous will cause a retinal hole or a tear which will ultimately lead to a retinal detachment and permanent vision loss. This type of blindness is almost always preventable by seeking the aid of your eye doctor when you first notice flashes of light or ocular floaters.

Regardless of the patient’s age the recent onset of floaters or flashes should be investigated by an eye doctor with a dilated retinal exam. Your doctor may decide to take retinal photographs as well. Most doctors, when evaluating a patient with floaters, will perform a dilated retinal exam 2-3 times over the next two months, giving them a reasonable degree of certainty that the floaters did not cause a retinal hole, tear or detachment.

Time is the best medicine for floaters, surgery can be done but the potential complications make it a poor choice. There are no known herbal or natural therapies that have been proven to make your floaters go away. Everyone agrees, floaters are a nuisance, but give them time and they will slowly go away.

Dr. Richard A. DriscollDr. Richard Driscoll is a Keller Texas Eye Doctor. Dr Driscoll is an optometric glaucoma specialist and a therapeutic optometrist, practicing at Total Eye Care. Total Eye Care has two office conveniently located in Keller, Texas and Colleyville, Texas. Dr. Driscoll can be reached at the Keller office at 817.416.0333.

At Total Eye Care we focus on patient centric eyecare, making your satisfaction our ultimate goal. The doctors at Total Eye Care see patients of all ages. We specialize in seeing patients with orthokeratology, dry eye syndrome, keratoconus, glaucoma and macular degeneration. Our doctors solve problems for their patients with solutions such as bifocal contact lenses and post surgical contact lenses for patients that still require contacts after refractive surgery such as LASIK or PRK.

Article Source:—Get-the-Facts-on-This-Common-Eye-Condition&id=3504045

7 responses to “The Facts on Flashes and Floaters

  1. The onset of a new large visual shadow/floater is sometimes difficult for patients, expecially when they hear that there is no way to get rid of it quickly. Additionally, many of these patients have no previous eye disease and are generally healthy people. We live in a “right now” culture and unfortunately a vitreous detachment is one of those things that that can’t be fixed “right now”. In this case, reassurance and education are the best medicine.

    Dr. Ryan Nelson, Optometrist
    Iowa EyeCare, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

  2. Eye floaters also known as vitreous floaters which fill up the back 3/4ths of a person’s eye and hence one can observe small shadows on the retina. To individuals eye floaters appear alike tiny flecks, cobweb or cloud-like formation. There are two ways for removal of eye floaters known as vitrectomy and laser Treatment. Laser treatment is more accurate than vitrectomy.

    • While I’m not a big fan of vitrectomy for the treatment of a self limiting condition that will usually improve with time, such as floaters, I would also not rush to have floaters treated via laser. Very rarely would the severity of a patients floaters rise to the level that I would recommend traditional surgery or laser surgery for the possible removal. I have yet in 25 years of practice seen floaters for which I would recommend surgery. Surgical treatment still remains a controversial options for vitreous floaters. Thanks for bringing these other options to light.

  3. Pingback: Doc, What Do Floaters Look Like | The Eye Doc Blog

  4. I beg to disagree with the last comment, as I myself have a huge black spider floater and it is very difficult to read or get used to looking at such a creepy thing as it is ” always there”. So if this thing does not “settle down”, I think the only sane thing to do is to have laser surgery as the prospect of looking at a spider is not very appealing to someone who might live another 30 years.

    • I agree floaters are bothersome and most of us, including myself, have some. Having them in your central vision is especially troublesome. I stand by the comment I made on 04/26/2010 though, and would not rush to surgery. I would hang in there, give it some time and then revisit the options. You will probably find, that with time, gravity will pull that floater down. While your “spider” may continue to remain in view for some time it will not be directly in the center of your vision where it is currently causing you such problems.

  5. What time ranges are we talking about? Weeks, months, years? What is the average life span of a floater onset episode?