What are Flashes and Floaters?
Flashes and floaters are common visual sensations that are seen within the field of vision. Floaters is a term that describes dark shadows that move across the field of vision. They can take on different shapes, like dots, specks, circles, and lines. These objects are most obvious when looking at a bright, plain background, like a blue sky. Flashes describe sudden bursts of light that are seen within your peripheral vision and are most visible in a dark setting. Flashes and floaters often occur together and are usually harmless, but they can be symptoms of abnormal changes within your eye that can lead to serious issues, like blindness. If you have been experiencing flashes and floaters or have recently noticed an increase in their occurrences, contact Stone Oak Ophthalmology Center in San Antonio, TX to schedule an eye exam. Our board-certified ophthalmologists, Dr. Allison Young, Dr. Kristin Held, and Dr. Teresa Whitney, are highly trained and experienced in diagnosing flashes and floaters and can guide you on how to best care for your eyes to preserve your best vision.
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When to see a doctor
Flashes and floaters typically arise with advanced age but can also be present in young patients as well. They are common occurrences that are not generally a cause for alarm, and they don't cause any pain. However, when they become prevalent and increase in number or size, that is usually when it's time to see an ophthalmologist. Other concerns to watch out for include:
- Loss of peripheral vision
- The development of a large, chronic dark shadow
- Constant flashes of light
- A sudden appearance of many small floaters
Flashes and floaters generally develop as we get older. Floaters are actually small particles that are suspended in the gel-like structure that fills the eye between the lens and retina. This is known as vitreous fluid or the vitreous body. The objects we see within our visual field are the shadows that are cast on the retina by these small particles. As we age, the vitreous fluid begins to thicken and shrink, which creates particles or floaters. The shrinkage or change of the vitreous body is what causes flashes. When the vitreous body pulls away from the retina, it is called posterior vitreous detachment (PVD). In these cases, surgery may be necessary.
During a comprehensive eye exam, our ophthalmologists can determine the underlying cause of your floaters and flashes and decide if any treatment is necessary. Most of the time, these are not a cause for serious concern, but if you have damage to your retina, surgery may be needed. Retinal tears are typically improved or corrected with laser therapy. While floaters may still occur after treatment and will remain in cases that do not require surgery, they often become easier to ignore over time and most patients will learn how to move their eyes to shake the shadows out of the field of vision. Routine eye exams are encouraged to monitor your ocular health.
Repair and relief
Although flashes and floaters may seem scary, most of the time, they are not a cause for serious concern. It is important to undergo annual eye exams so you can be familiar with what is normal and abnormal for your vision. Our seasoned ophthalmologists can also assess your eyes to determine if there is any damage to your retina or a need for surgical intervention. We encourage you to reach out to Stone Oak Ophthalmology Center in San Antonio, TX so we can help you understand your ocular health and answer any questions you may have regarding your vision.