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Flashes and Floaters

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Floaters are harmless specks, strands, or cobwebs that float in one's field of vision. These small blotches usually are more noticeable in bright light or when looking at a white background. Floaters naturally occur with age.

The vitreous, the jelly-like substance which fills the inside of the eye, is clear. As people grow older, strands of the vitreous attach to each other and float around inside the eye. When light strikes these strands, shadows are formed, and a person sees them as floaters. It is normal for people over the age of 50 to experience some floaters, but many young people experience floaters as well.

The sudden appearance of large floaters, however, may be an indicator of a condition known as posterior vitreous detachment – the separation of the vitreous from th e back wall of the eye.

Flashes, or bursts of light, can occur when the retina is damaged. The retina is the part of the eye responsible for collecting and sending information about light to the brain. These flashes are the retina’s way of warning that there may be a hole, te ar or detachment of the retina.

Flashes also can occur as a side effect of migraine headaches but these type of flashes are not accompanied by the blurred vision of retinal damage and do not signal eye damage.

In order to determine the cause of floaters and/or flashes, your doctor will thoroughly examine your retina during a dilated eye exam.

Flashes and floaters are common reasons for patients to visit the ophthalmologist. Any sudden or new flashes and/or floaters should be reported to your eye doctor.

Treatment will depend on the cause of the flashes or floaters. If the ophthalmologist cannot determine the cause of your symptoms, you may be asked to return for re- examination at a later date. Floaters do not go away for many patients, but with time gravity will push th e floaters to the bottom of the eye. Any flashes related to retinal damage should stop once the problem has been treated.

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