What are Flashes & Floaters?
From time to time you may notice ‘stuff’ drifting around in your vision. These small, moving spots are known as floaters. Floaters are not uncommon and are usually not usually serious, but they can be irritating.
What Causes Floaters?
Inside the eye there is a gel substance known as the vitreous, which helps keep the retina in place and the eye to maintain its round shape. In children, it has a thicker consistency like egg whites, but as we age it begins to liquefy and become more watery.
Floaters are caused by small clumps of this gel substance which have not completely liquefied. These clumps create shadows as light passes through your eye, creating the illusion of dark shapes floating in your vision.
You may tend to notice the floaters more when you look at a white wall or the blue sky, and that they move around in your vision as you move your eyes.
Are Floaters Serious?
For most people floaters are just a nuisance; however a sudden ‘shower’ or ‘cobweb’ of floaters, particularly if light flashes are also noticed, requires immediate attention. In this instance, the retina itself may be getting pulled and can tear or detach from the inner surface of the eye. Whilst rare, retinal detachments are serious and require treatment as soon as possible to prevent vision being lost permanently.
If you notice a sudden shower of floaters, particularly if they are accompanied by light flashes, it is important to visit your optometrist urgently as this could indicate retinal detachment.
Can I Get Rid of My Floaters?
Floaters are harmless, so it is generally not worth the risk of surgical treatment to remove them. Swishing your eyes side to side, or flicking them up and down may help move the floaters out of the way. Many people have floaters and learn to live with them.