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Floaters and Flashing Lights

Floaters are extremely common, and are sometimes associated with flashing lights in the eye, especially when they first appear. When they first appear, they normally affect one eye, but may affect both eyes at the same time.
In fact, they’re so common, that approximately two thirds of the population will have floaters by the time they are in their mid-sixties! However, they can occur at any age.

What do Floaters look like?

Most people describe floaters as little ‘blobs’ or ‘cobwebs’ or ‘string like’ features that move around in the eye, and can be best seen when looking at a light plain surface. However, floaters can take any number of appearances and are different in everybody.

What causes these flashes and floaters?

The commonest cause of floaters is called ‘vitreous detachment’. The main section of the eyeball is filled with a special gel known as ‘the vitreous’.
The vitreous gel thickens and shrinks as we age, sometimes forming tiny clumps in the vitreous. These clumps cast shadows onto the retina, and the resulting forms and shapes are referred to as eye floaters.
Sometimes during the process of the vitreous shrinking, it remains partially attached to the retina, and tugs on it. The resulting movement of the retina’s nerve cells can cause eye flashes.
Floaters and flashes may also be caused by trauma to the eye, migraine headaches or retinal detachment.

Why do I need my eye examined if I have new onset Floaters and /or Flashing Lights?

The vitreous detachment may tear the retina. If a hole or tear develops in the retina, then there is an increased risk of there being a retinal detachment. Retinal detachment is a serious condition and can cause loss of vision, and requires a surgical operation to put the retina back in the right place. Thus, it is very important that you have your eye examined urgently on the onset of symptoms. There are other less common reasons for floaters – e.g. bleeding into the gel in the back of the eye from a blood vessel (usually in diabetic patients).

Should I be worried about Floaters?

Most floaters are innocuous and there is no need to worry. However, if you have had new onset of floaters, then you need to have your eyes examined by an optometrist as a matter of urgency. By seeing an optometrist early, if there is a problem, it can be diagnosed and treated at an early before it progresses into something more serious.

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