See spots before your eyes? If you’ve ever seen small specks floating in your field of view, you’ve experienced “floaters.” The cause of flashes, floaters and spots is easily explained.
Floaters are usually normal and harmless. They are actually tiny clumps of gel or cells inside the vitreous, the clear, jelly-like fluid that fills the inside of your eye. Floaters may appear as specks, strands, webs or some other shape. What you are actually seeing are the shadows of the floaters cast on the retina, the light-sensitive inner lining of the back of the eye.
Signs and Symptoms
If a spot or other shape passes in front of your field of vision or to one side, you are experiencing a floater. They move with your eyes because they are inside the eye and suspended within the vitreous. Even if you don’t notice them, your eye doctor can detect them with special exam lights.
Causes of Floaters and Spots
Some floaters may be present at birth as part of the eye’s development. Others occur over time. At middle age, the vitreous begins to liquefy and contract so some parts of the vitreous form clumps or strands. A common cause of floaters happens when the vitreous gel pulls away from the back wall of the eye, causing a posterior vitreous detachment (PVD).
Floaters are most common among people who:
- Are nearsighted
- Have undergone cataract surgery
- Have had laser eye surgery
- Have had inflammation in the eye
Treatment of Floaters and Spots
As previously mentioned most floaters and spots are harmless and merely annoying. They generally fade over time. Sometimes, people want surgery to remove floaters but doctors are only willing to perform such surgery in rare cases.
Flashes of Light
Flashes of light may also occur, usually in older people. This is frequently caused by mechanical stimulation of the photoreceptors when the vitreous tugs on the retina. Flashes of light may be a warning sign of a detached retina, which is a serious problem that could lead to blindness if not treated quickly.
Sometimes people experience flashes of light that appear as jagged lines in both eyes that can last for 10-20 minutes. These flashes are generally caused by a spasm of blood vessels in the brain. If a headache follows the flashes, it is called a migraine; however, jagged lines can occur without a resulting migraine. This is called an ophthalmic migraine.
When Flashes, Floaters and Spots are an Emergency
If you suddenly see a significant number of floaters, especially if they are accompanied by flashes of light or other vision troubles, it could be an indication of retinal detachment of another serious problem. If this happens, see your eye doctor immediately.