There will be plenty of flashes in the skies this New Year’s Eve, but the flashes you see should end when the fireworks end.
If you see bright flashes of light or “stars” in your vision from day to day, you’re seeing more than the flashes of New Year’s celebrations or the residual spots from the bright flash of a camera. More than likely, you’re experiencing eye flashes.
Eye Flashes and Floaters: What Are They?
The human eyeball is filled with a gel-like substance called vitreous. As we age, the vitreous gel begins to liquefy, and small pieces may break loose. When this happens, you may notice dark spots in your vision called “floaters.” When the vitreous gel moves in such a way that it bumps, rubs or pulls on the retina, you will see flashes of light or even “stars” in your vision. (Anyone who has ever suffered a blow to the head may have also experienced the sensation of eye flashes.)
Who Gets Them?
Floaters are incredibly common. In fact, most of us will experience floaters at some point in time. Nearly half of adults over age 50 have already experienced floaters in their vision. Flashes may not be as common as floaters, but many adults will experience flashes as the vitreous gel shrinks and liquefies with age.
Though they are commonly associated with age, there are some other risk factors that may cause floaters or flashes. For example, people with nearsightedness, or who have previously undergone cataract surgery or YAG laser eye surgery can be at higher risk of experiencing floaters. Injury and inflammation in the eye can also lead to floaters and flashes.
Should You Worry?
While both floaters and flashes are generally harmless, they can be a warning sign of serious vision problems, such as a torn or detaching retina. If you experience a sudden onset of floaters or flashes, you should contact your eye doctor immediately for an eye exam. If a retinal tear is diagnosed and treated early, retinal detachment and permanent vision loss may be prevented.
What Can Be Done About Them?
If your eye doctor determines that your flashes are signs of a more serious problem, such as a retinal tear, the underlying problem should be treated as early as possible. Retinal tears can be treated with eye surgeries such as scleral buckling or vitrectomy or treatment with extreme cold, called cryopexy.
During the vitrectomy, the vitreous gel and any pieces that have broken off are removed by a retinal specialist and the gel is replaced with a salt solution. Risk of complications following this procedure is high, so most doctors will not perform the procedure unless it is absolutely necessary.
It is not typically necessary to treat floaters, however you can cause the floaters to move out of your direct line of vision by moving your eyes up and down. In the rare case that eye floaters are so dense they affect vision, vitrectomy can be used to treat them.
As with most eye conditions, early diagnosis and treatment can result in the prevention of permanent vision loss. Even if you have never experienced floaters or flashes, you should get a dilated eye exam once a year, or as directed by the eye doctor. Contact Key-Whitman Eye Center today to schedule your comprehensive eye exam if it’s been longer than a year or if you notice any vision change to receive immediate treatment if necessary. If retinal detachment has occurred, immediate eye surgery may be necessary to prevent permanent vision loss.