Floaters and Flashes

Some patients may experience seeing floating particles in their vision, often described as tadpoles, flies or cobwebs. These floaters are usually more obvious when observed against a white wall or bright sky. They represent shadows cast onto the retina by the lining of the vitreous gel that has detached from the retina. The vitreous gel is what fills the core of the eye and the natural aging process can lead to posterior vitreous detachment. This can also be precipitated by eye trauma.

During the active stage of posterior vitreous detachment, some patients may experience seeing flashing lights at the corner of their eyes. This is due to the pulling forces on the retinal blood vessels from the detaching vitreous. Typically, the flashes will subside after a few weeks, when the posterior vitreous detachment is complete.

However, some patients may encounter a retina break from the posterior vitreous detachment that may lead to retinal detachment. A retina break can be successfully treated by sealing with the Argon laser. However, once a retina break has progressed to a retinal detachment, blindness may ensue if not promptly treated by retinal repair surgery.

About 2% of patients experiencing posterior vitreous detachment go on to have a retinal break. It is due to this fact that all patients experiencing flashes and floaters should have a full eye check with dilated retinal examination, to rule out retina tear and detachment.

What should I do if I experience floaters and flashes?

Floaters and flashes are generally harmless but they can be bothersome. Unfortunately, there are no treatment options at the moment but it is advisable to visit an eye specialist to ensure that there are no other underlying conditions that could worsen if not detected and treated promptly.