Making Sense of Flashes & Floaters
Flashes and floaters are, to some extent, normal. However, there are times that they serve as an alarm; letting you know something is going wrong with your eyes. It’s important to know the difference between normal flashes and floaters and an indication of serious eye problems so if it happens to you, you’ll know how to react appropriately.
When Flashes & Floaters are Cause for Concern
Any time you notice sudden changes in your vision they could indicate a problem; flashes and floaters are no exceptions. If you notice that you’re experiencing flashes of light that seem to come in waves, it’s time to seek emergency medical attention.
This is particularly true when the flashes are partnered with a sudden influx of floaters, appearing to rain downward in a sort of shower. These symptoms usually indicate retinal detachment.
Understanding Retinal Detachment
The vitreous (the gel-like fluid inside your eye) is tightly attached to the retina which is then attached to the optic nerve; the channel through which images travel to your brain. Sometimes the vitreous retreats, pulling the retina away from its place at the back of the eye. Other times, a hard impact can cause the retina to detach. Regardless of how it happens, a retinal detachment is a serious issue.
If you start experiencing waves of flashes, a downward shower of floaters, or the appearance of a black curtain falling over your vision, you need to seek medical help immediately. A detached retina can usually be repaired or reattached, but time is of the essence. The sooner you see a doctor, the more likely you are to regain your vision.
The Science Behind Flashes & Floaters
The retina is a very sensitive system of tissues at the back of the eye. When light hits the retina, it sends an impulse to the brain, which is then interpreted into an image.
Flashes occur when something touches, tugs, or otherwise stimulates the retina, causing it to send a similar impulse to the brain. Sometimes, even the vitreous retreating is enough to cause a flash. A singular flash on its own is not typically cause for concern.
The inside of your eye is filled with a fluid called the vitreous. At birth, the vitreous is more of a gel consistency. But as you age, the vitreous starts to dissolve into more of a liquid. However, the vitreous doesn’t dissolve consistently; leaving pieces of undissolved vitreous floating in the liquid.
This is what we see when we see floaters. They can come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and most of the time are no cause for concern. The only time you should be concerned about your floaters is if you notice a sudden change in the size or number of floaters you see.