Have you ever noticed black spots or cobweb shapes floating in and out of your field of vision? Perhaps you’ve experienced flashes of light or what looks like lightning in your vision. If these symptoms sound familiar, you may have floaters or flashes.
What Are Floaters and Flashes?
Floaters are small pieces of a gel-like substance inside the eye called vitreous. As we age, the vitreous gel begins to liquefy, and small pieces may break loose and cause the dark spots or cobwebs known as floaters. If the pieces of vitreous gel bumps, rubs or pulls on the retina, you might see a flash of light or even “stars” in your vision.
Most people 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.
Are They Dangerous?
Both floaters and flashes are generally harmless, but they can be a warning sign of a more serious vision problem, 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.
Is It Safe to Fly If You Have Floaters or Flashes?
There is no risk associated with flying if you have floaters or flashes. The only time it may not be safe to fly is if you have had retina surgery and have a gas or air bubble in your eye following the surgery. Rapid change in air pressure can affect the gas or air bubble, but it does not affect floaters or flashes.
Is There Treatment for Floaters and Flashes?
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, or if your doctor determines they are signs of a more serious problem such as retina detachment, you may need to undergo eye surgery to prevent permanent vision loss.
Early diagnosis and treatment can result in the prevention of permanent vision loss due to floaters or flashes. Have a dilated eye exam once a year or as directed by the eye doctor to ensure your eyes are healthy but any sudden changes to your vision should alert you to call your doctor immediately.