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Understanding Flashers and Floaters

Woman rubbing her eyes

Did you see that speck? Or that one? Sometimes we see little specks, threads, squiggly lines, or flashes of light float across our line of vision. These mysterious tiny spots are called floaters, and the quick flashes of light are called flashers. Flashers and floaters are common vision issues in older people with about 25% of people experiencing them by their 60s and about 66% of people in their 80s.

But they’re not only issues for older people. They are also common in people who are nearsighted, have had surgery for cataracts, or have health conditions such as diabetes or uveitis, which is inflammation in the eye.

What causes floaters?

While those specks that dash across your vision and seem to follow your gaze seem very real, they are actually shadows inside your eye. They are caused when the vitreous, which is a gel-like substance that fills most of your eye, shrinks or thickens, then breaks apart and forms tiny clumps.

Floaters are actually shadows of these clumps or strands of vitreous that form a shadow on your retina.

What causes flashers?

Those same clumps that lead to floaters can also rub or pull on your retina. This retina stimulation can produce flashes of light. These flashes of light, or flashers, can also occur after you get knocked on the head pretty hard, jostling your vitreous. Flashers after a head trauma are sometimes referred to as “seeing stars.”

When you should see a doctor for flashes or floaters?

Flashes and floaters can sometimes be an early sign of a more serious eye condition.

You should make an appointment with our experts at University Retina as soon as possible if:

These are signs that you may have a condition that could affect your vision, including a detached or torn retina. An increase in flashers and floaters may also indicate bleeding, or a hemorrhage, from a vessel in the retina or an infection or inflammation in the eye.

Treatment options for flashers and floaters

As we mentioned previously, in most cases no treatment is necessary. If the flashers and floaters are a sign of a more severe eye issue, our specialists at University Retina can determine the best treatment option based on your symptoms and condition.

For small retinal tears, cryotherapy, which is a freezing technique, can help prevent a small tear from getting bigger. Other options to repair larger retinal tears or detachment issues include pneumatic retinopexy, a procedure that pushes the retina back into place, and scleral buckle, a procedure where the excess fluid is drained, coaxing the retina back into a healthy position.

If you are seeing spots, threads, squiggly lines, or flashes of light and want to know if they are an indication of a serious eye condition, or if they’re bothering you, call University Retina with offices in Oak Forest, Bedford Park, Lemont, and Downers Grove, Illinois, or make an appointment online.

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