Eye floaters are those tiny spots, flecks, or dots that drift aimlessly around in your vision, seemingly out of nowhere. While sometimes annoying, most often these eye floaters are not cause for alarm. Floaters occur when the gel that forms the flexible center of the eye, known as the vitreous, begins to age, small particles will break off and float in the vitreous. When these particles float between light entering the eye and the retina at the back of the eye, they appear as floaters.
Floaters are much more pronounced if you look at a computer screen with a bright background, or at a clear, bright blue sky. This is because the brighter and more white shifted the color, the more it will “light up” a floater in the vitreous liquid. While you won’t truly see the particle, what you do see is the tiny shadow it casts across the retina.
Eye floaters can also be a warning of certain eye conditions if they appear suddenly and in great number.
If you experience a sudden increase in floaters directly after a head or eye impact, such as in contact sports or a car crash, this is likely cause for immediate investigation as they can be symptomatic of deeper trauma to the eye.
Ordinarily, light entering the eye lands on the retina, stimulating the nerves there in different ways depending on color, brightness, etc, causing an electrical nerve impulse. These impulses pass up the optic nerve into the brain, where they are processed and we “see.” If the retina is somehow touched or tugged, this also registers as a stimulation of the retina, but without any corresponding light, it appears as a white or white-grey flash.
In most cases, these flashes occur after rubbing ones eyes in the morning after waking up, as that pushes the vitreous very gently against the retina. Other times these flashes can occur is after a hard head blow that shakes the vitreous, which is why we “see stars” after a solid hit to the head. As well, the blood vessels in the eye can spasm sympathetically with pain, almost always in conjunction with the start or duration of a migraine.
The sudden, and without reason, onset of a rapid series of flashes is when eye flashes become cause for serious concern. These flashes, as with floaters, can be indicative of a retinal tear or vitreous detachment. They can also be early signs of an eye infection that has reached the retina or optic nerve, and should be investigated immediately. If you see stars after a head impact for longer than a few minutes, that is also cause for immediate concern as it is possibly indicative a traumatic detachment of the vitreous or other eye damage.
Treatment Of Floaters And Flashes
In the case of both floaters and flashes, they are not readily treatable since they are more symptoms than actual conditions. However, ask your Optometrist during your eye exam should you have any questions regarding floaters or flashes, as they may prompt investigation that could detect the early signs of other eye conditions.