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Eye Floaters & Flashes — When Should I Become Concerned?

We all experience eye floaters and flashes from time to time, but when do they go from a random appearance to something you should be concerned about? Floaters and flashes are a normal part of life and only become more common as you get older, which means that experiencing more isn’t necessarily a cause for alarm. On the other hand, a sudden increase in them may point to a serious problem with your eye health.

How many floaters are normal

To help you gain a better understanding of eye floaters and flashes, we’ll look at:

  • When to see a doctor
  • What are eye floaters?
  • What are eye flashes?
  • Risk factors of eye floaters and flashes
  • Causes
  • Treatment
  • Your comprehensive eye exam

When to See a Doctor

Eye floaters and flashes are a common occurrence for most people and only become more common past the age of 50. However, they can also be a sign that something is seriously wrong with your eyes.  

Be on the lookout for a sudden increase in floaters and flashes in your vision. New floaters and flashes in your vision are also red flags. These changes may indicate that you’ve had a retinal tear or even a retinal detachment. While a retinal tear may lead to an increase in floaters and flashes, an untreated retinal detachment can eventually lead to permanent vision loss.

Contact us immediately if you experience these symptoms. Our team of ophthalmologists can treat the problem at the source and protect both your short-term and long-term vision. 

Want to learn more about what these symptoms could mean? Read ​​Why You May Be Seeing Floaters and Flashes to find out!

What are eye floaters?

Eye floaters appear as odd shapes in your field of vision. There are different types of eye floaters, such as dots, circles, lines, or small specks. It can seem like these obstructions are right in front of your eye, but they’re actually floating on the inside. This is because what seems like debris are actually tiny clumps of cells or gel within the vitreous that fills your eye. 

Also called vitreous humor, vitreous is the clear, jelly-like substance that fills your eye and gives its shape. When working correctly, light enters the eye through the cornea to pass through the iris, lens, and vitreous. Light eventually makes its way to the retina and optic nerve in the back of the eye where it’s transformed into the images that you see.

Eye floaters occur when the vitreous gel within your eye clumps together and blocks some of the light from reaching your retina. They cast shadows on your retina, which become the odd shapes you see in your field of vision. They’re most apparent when looking at a surface or area such as a blank wall or the sky.

Watch our video with Dr. Carrera to learn more about eye floaters and flashes.

Are eye floaters dangerous?

Eye floaters are usually harmless. In fact, they’re a normal part of aging. As you get older, the vitreous will naturally shrink or become thicker, resulting in strands or clumps in your eyes. This process is usually accompanied by the vitreous pulling away from the back of the eye, called posterior vitreous detachment.

While the name may sound scary, posterior vitreous detachment isn’t something to be that worried about. Floaters are little more than a minor annoyance and will fade into the background as you get used to them over time. Floaters can be surgically removed in severe cases, although it’s viewed as a last resort.

Floaters are a normal part of life and are little cause for alarm. However, you should contact our office immediately if you experience new ones or a sudden increase in floaters. This may point to a more serious condition that requires immediate medical attention from an eye doctor.

What are eye flashes?

Eye flashes are flashes of light that appear in your field of vision for no apparent reason. They can appear as “stars” when you get hit in the head or from standing up too quickly. Flashes can occur on and off over a period of days, weeks, or even months. They occur when the vitreous either pulls on the retina or rubs up against it.

Like floaters, everyone will experience eye flashes from time to time. They also become a bit more common as you get older. They are usually harmless, but be sure to seek medical attention if you experience a sudden increase in them or new flashes. Our team will perform an eye exam to check for any serious threats to your eye health. 

Eye Flashes and Migraines

Everyone experiences eye flashes at some point, especially as they get older. However, some types of eye flashes are more concerning than others. Pay attention to the types of eye flashes you experience. 

If they appear as heat waves or jagged lines then they may be a warning sign for an oncoming migraine headache. These flashes can appear in one or both eyes and last around 20 minutes. Keep in mind that these flashes aren’t always followed by a headache. These types of migraines are known as “migraines without headache,” or ophthalmic migraines.

A migraine occurs when the blood vessels in your brain spasm. It’s a common health issue that often includes a severe headache that can be located on one side of your brain and get worse when you move. Classic migraines are preceded by eye flashes, giving sufferers a warning that a severe headache is about to come on.

The cause of migraines isn’t currently known. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), 2 out of 10 people have the condition and it affects women more than men. It seems to be genetic, making it a part of family medical histories and affecting young children as well as adults. People with migraines also tend to experience motion sickness more often than those who don’t.  

Migraine Triggers

There’s no clear way to prevent migraines. Fortunately, you may be able to reduce them or prepare for them by knowing your triggers. These may include:

  • Food and drink such as aged cheese, chocolate, and alcohol
  • Food additives such as MSG, artificial sweeteners, along with nitrites and nitrates
  • Poor sleep
  • Hormonal changes such as being pregnant, menstruating, or menopause
  • Dehydration
  • Scents from perfume and cologne
  • Certain types of lights

Knowing your triggers allows you to reduce your risk of experiencing migraines or be able to anticipate them.

Risk Factors of Eye Floaters & Flashes

As we’ve noted, everyone may experience eye floaters and flashes from time to time. On the other hand, there are certain factors that increase your chances of having them. These risk factors include:

  • Being over the age of 50
  • Being nearsighted
  • Previous eye trauma
  • Complications due to cataract surgery
  • Diabetic retinopathy
  • Inflammation of the eye
  • Autoimmune disorders

Read What Happens to Our Eyes as We Age? to learn more about your vision as you get older!

How many floaters is too many

Causes

Getting older is the most common cause of eye floaters and flashes, but that’s not the only reason they occur. What’s more, it helps to have a deeper understanding of why they become more common in your 50s and beyond. This can help you tell the difference between harmless flashes or floaters and those that indicate a more serious condition.

Age

The jelly-like liquid inside your eye (vitreous) changes over time, affecting your vision. As time goes on, it begins to liquefy a little and pull away from the wall of the eye. As it sags, the vitreous begins to form the strings and clumps that block light from reaching the retina and create the floaters and flashes that you see. 

Inflammation

Sometimes floaters are the result of debris created by inflammation in the back of the eye. Once released into the vitreous, the debris affects your vision like age-related eye floaters. Inflammation of the back of the eye is known as posterior uveitis. It affects the uvea by infection, inflammatory disease, or another cause.

Bleeding in the Eye

Bleeding in the eye can happen for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Injury
  • Diabetes
  • Blocked blood vessels
  • High blood pressure

When this occurs, blood enters the vitreous and creates obstructions similar to age- and inflammation-related floaters. 

Torn Retina

The sagging and pulling of the vitreous away from the retina is a natural part of aging. However, sometimes the pulling can occur with enough force to actually tear in the retina. A torn retina can eventually develop into a retinal detachment in which fluid builds up behind the retina and causes it to detach from the back of your eye. 

You can usually tell if you have a retinal tear if you experience a sudden increase in eye floaters and flashes. It’s normal to experience them occasionally, but for many to appear all at once is a sign that something is definitely wrong with your eye and needs medical attention immediately.

Contact us immediately to have your eyes examined and prevent a detached retina. Without treatment, a retinal tear or detachment can cause an increase in eye floaters and flashes, as well as vision loss.

Eye Surgery and Medication

In some cases, you may experience floaters and flashes following medical eye care. Talk to your surgeon if this happens to you. As with other types of eye floaters and eye flashes that develop for reasons besides age, these bubbles create shadows on the retina that appear as floaters. 

Treatment

In most cases, surgery isn’t necessary for treating eye floaters and flashes. In fact, the most common treatment is no treatment at all. This is because, while annoying, they’re usually harmless and you’ll eventually get used to them. They become another aspect of your daily life like driving to work or going to the grocery store.

Surgery for eye floaters does exist, but it’s rarely advised by eye surgeons and only for the most extreme cases. Much like cataracts, they need to advance to the point where they impede your vision so much that no other alternative is possible.

In these cases, your surgeon will recommend a vitrectomy. Taken from the word “vitreous,” vitrectomies treat problems with the vitreous and retina. During the procedure, your natural vitreous is removed and replaced with a new solution to help you see without obstruction and let your eye keep its natural shape.

Surgery may be necessary in extreme cases, but only as a last resort since there are some risks that come along with surgery. They’ll help determine if you’re a good candidate.

Floaters and flashes are often the result of a torn or detached retina, so it can be counterproductive to undergo a procedure that increases your risk. Vitrectomies can also cause other damage to your eyesight, which can defeat the purpose of eye surgery.

Lasers can be used to treat floaters, but they don’t actually remove them. Instead, the laser is used to break up the clumps in your field of vision and move them to the sides of your vision. Unfortunately, this procedure poses many of the same risks as vitrectomy. 

Treating Retinal Tears

Treatment for retinal tears can be very effective and prevent retinal detachment when caught early. Treatment often involves cryotherapy to reseal the edges of the tear and prevent it from progressing to a detachment. The risk for future tears still exists so it’s important to monitor your vision as well as continue regular visits to our office.

Sometimes treatment isn’t even necessary. “Low risk” tears are those without symptoms and can be monitored by one of our surgeons. In other cases, the body will repair the tear on its own much like a cut on your skin.

Treating Retinal Detachment

There are multiple surgical options for treating a retinal detachment. They include:

  • Pneumatic retinopexy – injecting air or gas into the eye
  • Scleral buckling – indenting the surface of the eye to reduce pulling on the retina
  • Vitrectomy

We’ll discuss your situation with you and which procedure suits it best. Don’t wait until a tear progresses to a detachment to get treatment. Early diagnosis and treatment help to ensure less invasive treatment and a faster recovery.

Can you reduce eye floaters naturally? 

Many people ask if they can get rid of eye floaters naturally. There are products that claim to reduce eye floaters naturally as well as many home remedies. However, they only reduce the irritation caused by eye floaters and won’t actually remove them from your vision. 

If floaters are being particularly frustrating, try moving your eyes quickly from left to right or up and down. This may remove them from your field of vision, but only temporarily. You can also try:

  • Lying down
  • Sitting up from a flat position
  • Sitting down
  • Moving your head from side to side

As with moving your eyes, these changes in position may be enough to let gravity move them from your field of vision. Just keep in mind that this is only a temporary fix.

A quick internet search will yield many “home remedies” to help reduce floaters, but they’re usually just adjustments to your daily life. While they won’t get rid of floaters and flashes, they can protect your eye and overall health.

These tips include:

  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Quitting smoking
  • Wearing high-quality sunglasses
  • Getting plenty of rest

The best way to deal with eye floaters is to ignore them. They’ll eventually fade into the background as you get used to them. These suggestions will help protect your vision and overall health for years to come, but they won’t remove them from your vision.

Looking for ways to protect your vision? Read Get Better Eye Health By Making These Lifestyle Changes for our favorite tips!

Your Comprehensive Eye Exam

You’ll need to come to our office if you suspect you have a sudden increase in eye floaters or flashes. Your surgeon will perform what’s known as a comprehensive eye exam to diagnose a retinal tear or detachment, or another cause for the sudden change.

Comprehensive eye exams are unique in that they provide eye care professionals with a deeper look into the eye. This is thanks to being able to dilate the pupils which allows more light in to examine the structure of the eye. With pupil dilation, our surgeons can spot a retinal tear or detachment and help you get the treatment you need.

Not sure if you need a dilated eye exam? Read 7 Signs That It’s Time For Your Next Comprehensive Eye Exam to see if it’s time!

But comprehensive eye exams do more than diagnose the cause of eye floaters and flashes. They’re essential for maintaining your eye and overall health. These eye exams help catch other serious issues such as:

  • Cataracts
  • Glaucoma
  • Macular degeneration
  • Hypertension
  • Diabetes
  • Autoimmune disorders

You already get your yearly physical exam and have your twice-yearly visit to the dentist. Think of dilated exams as a yearly checkup for your eyes. They allow our eye doctors to catch issues before they become major problems, as well as monitor eye issues for when it’s time to schedule surgery.

Have you noticed a change or increase in eye flashes or floaters? Contact us today to schedule your consultation!

Eye floaters and flashes are often harmless. They’re a natural part of life and become more common as you age. On the other hand, a sudden increase in flashes and floaters is a sign that something is wrong and that you should get treatment immediately. We’ll perform a comprehensive eye exam to examine the structures of your eye, locate the problem, and get you the treatment you need.

Baptist Eye Surgeons is an ophthalmological practice in Knoxville, TN, and Morristown, TN. Give us a call at 865-579-3920 for more information or to schedule an appointment.

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