One of the scariest things that can occur in your eyes is the start of many new floaters along with flashes of light. These symptoms are often very bothersome and can be frightening on their own. However, the most concerning the possible cause of these symptoms – a retinal detachment or retinal tear – is even more frightening. Since both eye floaters and flashes can be due to several other, less concerning causes, it is important to tell your eye doctor about any of these symptoms if they occur. It is considered urgent and should be evaluated within a day or two.
What are Floaters?
Eye floaters are spots that appear black or dark gray in the vision. These spots will move as the eyes move and will not remain still in one area of the vision.
Small floaters may be described as looking like a small insect flying through the vision such as a gnat or a fly.
Larger floaters may appear as a spider web-like array or a circular black ring in the vision.
These floaters are caused by the gel-like center part of the eye that is called the vitreous. The vitreous can become clumped and result in a floater.
It is not uncommon for someone to have one or two floaters that are unchanged throughout their life.
However, a more concerning finding is if there are many new floaters all at once. It may appear as if there is a rain or snow globe-like effect in the eye from the vast number of new floaters.
What Causes Flashes in the Eyes?
Flashes of light in the vision are a symptom of something stimulating the retina with force rather than light in the environment.
The most common force that is applied to the retina is from the vitreous pulling on it as it becomes detached from the retina.
The vitreous is attached at several points in the eye to the retina and with age, it becomes dense and pulls away from the retina.
As the vitreous condenses and becomes detached, it can pull part of the retina with it and cause flashes of light as it stimulates the retina cells.
What to Do for Flashes and Floaters
If you experience new flashes or floaters, it is important to have an eye examination and have the symptoms investigated.
Many times, it will not be anything that is concerning, usually, these symptoms are caused by a posterior vitreous detachment that does not have any accompanying retinal breaks or tears.
However, in a few of these cases, the posterior vitreous detachment will cause a peripheral retina break or tear known as a horseshoe tear or tractional tear.
If there is a tear associated with the posterior vitreous detachment, it will likely require preventative laser treatment.
If the cause of the flashes or floaters was not a posterior vitreous detachment, it is much more concerning and likely that there was trauma to the head or eye and the retina has become damaged.
Any type of blunt trauma can cause a retinal detachment and should be thoroughly investigated if there are subsequent flashes or floaters.