Floaters are spots or lines that drift across your eyeball from time to timeand they are generally nothing to worry about. Called entoptic phenomena, they are sloughed-off retinal cells floating in the vitreousthe jellylike substance that fills much of your eyeball. Occasionally, floaters are bothersome when you’re reading or if they happen to appear directly in your line of vision. In rare instances floaters can be a warning sign of a detached retinaa condition that requires immediate medical attention.
Between the ages of 40 and 60, flashes of light may randomly appear in the line of vision for no apparent reason. People who get hit in the eye may also notice streaks of light, claiming that they have seen stars.
Symptoms of Floaters and Flashes
- Floaters: jagged specks, little lines, spider webs, or circles floating in your field of vision
- Flashes: Flashing, flickering, brilliant streaks of light in your line of vision.
- Migraine flashers: zigzag, shimmering, or colorful lines that may move within your field of vision. These kind of flashers may be associated with headache, dizziness or nausea.
A dramatic onset of floaters and flashes, a sudden wavy, watery quality in vision, or a sudden, partial loss of vision are symptoms of a detached retina, an emergency that requires immediate treatment.
What Causes Floaters and Flashes?
Floaters tend to appear when you tilt your head or suddenly glance up or down, causing cellular debris to cross the center of the retina.
The causes of flashes are spontaneous and linked directly to the aging process. The gel inside the eye starts to liquefy and peel off from the retina. The tugging and pulling that goes on causes the retina to be stimulated, and the ensuing flashing lightning streaks and stars may continue on and off for several weeks until a layer of gel is stripped away. Those who are nearsighted or have inflamed eyes or injured eyes are more likely to develop floaters.
The brilliant streaks of light people notice after getting hit in the eye have nothing to do with stars but are caused by the mechanical stimulation of the retina, the light-sensing inner layer of the eye.
What If You Do Nothing?
Most floaters are quite benign, not a cause for alarm, and will move away very quickly.
Over 90 percent of the time flashes of light in the field of vision are a benign event related to aging and not associated with anything that produces long-term problems. However, if you are struck in the eye and see stars, do not casually dismiss the incident but go immediately to an ophthalmologist for an eye exam to make sure your retina was not damaged in the accident.
Detached Retina: An Emergency
Flashing lights, a sudden onset of floaters, or a rapid increase in them (especially if they are confined to one eye or appear in large clumps), blurry vision, or the disappearance of part of your visual field may indicate that your retina has, or is about to become, detached from your eye.
A detached retina is a tear or dislocation of the eye’s back layer of light-sensitive cells and nerve endings. This can be caused by a severe blow, but it is more commonly the result of a shrinking of the vitreous inside the eyeball, which may occur with aging. Severe shortsightedness is a risk factor, as is diabetes. Retinal detachment also occurs in about 3 percent of people who have undergone cataract surgery.
It is essential to seek treatment immediately, since a detached retina can cause complete loss of vision. Go to the nearest emergency room or ophthalmologist. Many treatments are available, including laser or surgical repair, that can successfully correct early reti
Home Remedies for Floaters and Flashes
For floaters, try looking up and down several times. This movement within the eye will often cause the floaters to disappear.
There is no home treatment for flashes.
Nothing can be done to stop the progressive liquefaction of the vitreous gel inside the eye and the resulting floaters. There is no way to prevent flashes.
Beyond Home Remedies: When To Call Your Doctor
If you experience a sudden shower of floaters or flashes, including floaters that accompany a blow to the eye, you may have a detached retina and should seek immediate medical help.
What Your Doctor Will Do
An ophthalmologist will perform an eye exam and use special diagnostic tools—including fluorescein angiography (which allows photographic images to be taken of the eye’s blood vessels)—to assess the condition and determine which surgical procedure may be necessary.
The Complete Home Wellness Handbook
John Edward Swartzberg, M.D., F.A.C.P., Sheldon Margen, M.D., and the editors of the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter
Updated by Remedy Health Media