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Flashes floaters and spots

Flashes, floaters and spots

What are flashes?



Also known as ‘photopsia’, flashes are the sensation of seeing a light without such a stimulus actually being there. These streaks of light are similar to what can be seen when the flash of a camera goes off. These can occasionally be seen in dim light by any person of any age.


What are floaters or spots?




Floaters are those semi-transparent or cloudy specks, particles or blobs in your vision that are sometimes seen when you look at a plain light coloured surface. Though usually harmless, they may be a sign of a serious problem.

Floaters are greatly variable in their appearance. Sometimes, you might barely notice them, while at others they may be particularly annoying as they drift across your vision. They may appear as dull shadows or thread like strands or fine cobwebs or spots. When you try to see them and turn your eyes, they may change their position a little.

What causes floaters and spots?




Though it may seem like it is occurring outside your eye, spots and floaters are actually because of particles within the vitreous (the gel like substance inside your eyeball) that cast shadows on your retina (the screen at the back of your eye). The vitreous becomes more fluid with advancing age. When this happens, microscopic fibres within the vitreous may clump together and then cast shadows.

Spots can occur due to small flecks of proteins getting trapped in the vitreous during your eye’s formation before your birth.

A spontaneous bleeding from a ruptured blood vessel in your retina can cause the sudden appearance of floaters.
Posterior uveitis or inflammation in the layers in the back of the eye can cause floaters.

Following are the factors that can increase your risk of floaters like:

• Age above 50 years
• Nearsightedness
• Trauma to the eye
• Eye Inflammation
• Diabetic Retinopathy
• Cataract Surgery complications
• Retinal Detachment

What causes flashes?



Flashes are caused by improper stimulation of your eye’s retina or optic nerve, which your brain may interpret as light. This can happen when your retina is tugged, torn or detached.

A retinal detachment may occur, the first sign of which is flashes and floaters. This is a medical emergency and any delay in treatment can lead to blindness.
Another cause could be the vitreous shrinking and pulling away from the retina. You will see a flash of light on the retina every time the vitreous pulls on the retina. If this continues, it can end in the vitreous separating from the retina. This is called vitreous detachment. A vitreal detachment can also cause holes or tears in the retina. These flashes are usually seen in one eye only towards the outer side of your vision.

Vitreous detachment is more common in persons who have:

• Nearsightedness

• Undergone cataract operations or YAG laser surgery

• Had a swelling inside or injury to the eye

These flashes are quite different from the zig zag patterns in vision and shimmery lights seen by migraine patients. Sometimes, a headache might not follow these jagged lines, when it is called an ophthalmic migraine.

Papilloedema, Occipital lobe lesions (tumors or arterio-venous malformations) are other causes involving the nervous system that can cause flashes.
Apart from this, sickle cell retinopathy, retinopathy of prematurity and diabetic retinopathy can also cause flashes.
Flashes can also be a symptom of digitalis toxicity which can occur in older patients taking digitalis for their heart troubles.
Sometimes, these may be indicative of transient ischemic attack which is suggestive of a risk of a stroke.

How are these tested?

Your Ophthalmologist will dilate your pupils and carefully examine your eyes including the vitreous and retina.


How are these treated?

Usually, they do not require any treatment. Surgery to remove floaters is almost never needed. If needed, a vitrectomy may be done, in which the gel inside your eye is removed and a solution is placed in your vitreous to help the vitreous maintain its shape.


However, they can be signs of vitreous or retinal detachment. In these cases, treatment is urgently required :

• Laser
• Surgery


Do I need to see the doctor?

Many a times, these symptoms are caused by aging. However, because the same symptoms are caused by dangerous eye diseases, you need to be careful and show your Ophthalmologist immediately if:

• There is a sudden increase in the number and size of floaters
• You notice a sudden onset of flashes
• See a gray curtain moving across your line of sight or in the periphery of your vision
• Have a sudden decrease in your vision