RETINAL DETACHMENT FLOATERS AND FLASHES
Many people report seeing squiggly lines or cloudy, thread-like substances that seem to float or dart across their field of vision. These semi-opaque strands, webs, or circles are referred to as floaters or spots.
Floaters appear to be in front of the eye but are inside the eye. They move when you move the eyes and continue to drift slightly when you stop moving the eye. They are usually seen when looking at plain, light-colored backgrounds.
Inside the eye, there is a clear, gel-like fluid called the vitreous, which maintains the shape of the eye, supplies it with nutrients, and aids the focusing of light. You may see floaters if some of the gel in your vitreous clumps together, or if there are small flecks of protein or other material that were trapped in the vitreous when your eye was formed. The floaters in your eye are seen as shadows by the retina (the light-sensitive area at the back of your eye).
Floaters become more frequent as a person ages because the structure of the vitreous becomes less stable. With age, parts of the vitreous gel become liquid. This liquid may get in between the outer vitreous and retina, pushing the gel forward, a condition called vitreous detachment. As this occurs opacities may form at the liquid-gel interface and be seen as floaters. They are common and harmless in themselves. However, with this degeneration in the vitreous, you may sometimes get pulled on the retina if the vitreous is sticking to the retina in places. Pulling on the retina causes the sensation of flashes. These flashes of light are typically silvery, are seen in one eye, and occur under low light conditions. They are not multicolored as can occur in migraine. If the pulling on the retina is severe enough, a hole or tear may occur in the retina. Then liquid vitreous may pass through the hole, peeling the retina off the back wall of the eye. This is called a retinal detachment.
If you have had occasional floaters for years that have changed very little over time then there should be no need to worry. If however you suddenly notice floaters that were not there before or experience a sudden increase in floaters, you should have your eyes examined promptly. This examination is to search for any retinal tears and get immediate treatment if they are found.
If you develop flashing lights, again you should have your eyes examined promptly. Flashing lights may mean pulling on the retina (with a high risk of retinal detachment).
Floaters are common but, like flashes, they demand respect as they may require prompt examination.