Why am I seeing black/grey spots floating around? Why am I getting squiggly lines flying? Why am I seeing a cobweb or hair floating around in my eye?
All these funny sensations you are seeing are called FLOATERS aka MUSCAE VOLITANTES (Latin for “flying flies”) and this can be a totally natural phenomenon.
Why do Floaters Occur?
Some people are born with floaters, but most floaters are caused by age-related changes that occur to the jelly inside our eyes, called the VITREOUS HUMOUR. When we are younger, this “jelly” is thicker and as we age, the jelly begins to dissolve and liquefy. Some undissolved fibres in the jelly clump together. These tiny clumps cast a shadow on to your RETINA (the back of the eye), and ultimately, this is what you see floating around. These floaters may be even more noticeable on a overcast day or against a very white/bright background (ie, bright computer screen, white walls, etc)
If you have had floaters for years, generally, your brain learns to eventually ignore them. Some people find that floaters can be very annoying, but most people become used to them. They rarely cause problems with your vision. Sometimes the number of floaters increases gradually as you get older.
SOMETIMES AN INCREASE IN FLOATERS CAN BE A SIGN OF PROBLEMS INSIDE THE EYE. SEE AN EYE DOCTOR AS SOON AS POSSIBLE TO RULE OUT ANY SIGNIFICANT SIGHT THREATENING COMPLICATIONS!
Since these floaters “drift” around in the jelly of your eye, you will find that if you move your eye around to look at the floater, it will move also in the same direction you moved your eye.
Symptoms of Floaters:
- Shadowy dots or specks
- Spots that move/drift when you move your eyes
- Small shapes or strings
- Cobweb or spider like shapes
- Ring shaped structure in vision
- Flashes/sparks in your vision* (ANY FLASHING IN YOUR VISION SHOULD BE CHECKED OUT BY AN EYE DOCTOR IMMEDIATELY)
Who is at Risk of Floaters?
- age: especially after the age of 50yrs
- people who are near-sighted (myopic)
- post eye surgery (after cataract surgery, laser treatment after cataract surgery, etc.)
What might happen if I have Floaters?
Most of the time floaters are harmless and nothing needs to be done about them. There can be other reasons for floaters as well:
- Inflammation in the back of the eye
- Bleeding in the eye
- Retinal Detachment
- Eye Trauma
- Head/Neck Trauma
These Reasons can be SIGHT THREATENING! It is vital to get your eyes checked IMMEDIATELY if new floaters appear, especially a sudden increase in floaters or any FLASHES /sparks in your vision that do not go away.
How do you treat floaters?
Most eye floaters do not require any treatment. They can be annoying and frustrating but most people are able to adjust and learn to ignore them.
If the floaters are too bothersome or feel like they are impairing your vision, sometimes treatment is possible:
- Surgery to remove the jelly (vitreous): this procedure is known as a VITRECTOMY. A specialist will only do this if the benefits outweigh the risks as this procedure can be quite risky and may cause bleeding or retinal tears.
- Laser Treatment: known as Laser Vitreolysis can break apart/vaporize certain floaters. Not all patients are candidates for this procedure.
What Are Flashes?
Some people may see flashes of light in front of one of their eyes. The flashes may appear like small sparkles, lightning or fireworks. They may be seen more in your peripheral (side) vision, appear in dimmer lighting conditions, may come and go, and lasts seconds at a time.
Flashes occur when there is a tug/pull on the retina and our brain interprets this tug as a flash of light. The jelly inside our eye is held onto the retina like glue. So as the jelly begins to liquefy with time, it begins to separate/detach itself from the retina as it gets more and more watery. This is known as a POSTERIOR VITREOUS DETACHMENT (PVD). As the jelly is breaking free from the retina, it may tug at it during the process. This tugging/pulling means that traction is being applied to the retina. This tugging sends an electrical impulse from the retina to the brain, and our brain interprets it as a “flash of light”. When the jelly has fully separated from the retina, the flashing will gradually subside.
Sometimes Flashes can indicate a RETINAL DETACHMENT.
What is a Retinal Detachment?
Sometimes as the Jelly is detaching itself from the retina (PVD), it can cause injury to the retina known as a retinal detachment or retinal tear. Thankfully, most PVDs do not lead to a torn or detached retina!
A RETINAL DETACHMENT IS SIGHT THREATENING AND CAN CAUSE IRREVERSIBLE BLINDNESS IF IT IS NOT REPAIRED IN TIME!
Symptoms of a Retinal Detachment:
- Sudden appearance of many floaters
- Flashes of light in one or both eyes
- Blurry vision
- A curtain-like shadow over your visual field
- New and sudden loss of any part of your vision
ANY OF THESE SYMPTOMS REQUIRE IMMEDIATE ATTENTION FROM AN EYE DOCTOR.
Who is at Risk of Retinal Detachment?
Some people are more at risk of a retinal detachment:
- Your prescription is over -3.00
- Are over the age of 50yrs
- If you are into extreme sports like bungee jumping
- If you have had a retinal detachment before
- If you have had an eye injury
- Had any head or neck trauma (whiplash, concussion)
- If you have had eye surgery (like cataract surgery, laser surgery after cataract surgery)
- If you have retinal diseases like lattice degeneration, uveitis
- If you have systemic diseases like Marfans syndrome
How do you treat a Retinal Detachment?
If caught early, a retinal tear can be treated with:
- Laser Surgery (photocoagulation)
- Freezing (cryopexy)
These techniques are usually fast and almost painless!
If the detachment has progressed, surgery is required to repair it. After surgery, vision may take weeks-months to improve and a 2nd surgery may be required for successful treatment. Some people never recover all their vision.
Can a Detached Retina Heal on its Own?
No, but sometimes the floaters and flashes may seem get better on their own, even when a retinal tear or a retinal detachment is present. However, damage can still be there even if symptoms appear to be getting better! So even if your floaters or flashes seem to be getting better, it is still important to be examined by an Eye Doctor as soon as possible to get treatment!
REMEMBER TO SEE YOUR EYE DOCTOR RIGHT AWAY IF:
- You suddenly see flashes that were not there before
- You have a sudden increase in flashes of light
- You see cloudiness or dark spots in your vision
- You have a large new floater or a shower of floaters
- You see dark area or “curtain” like shadow across your vision
- You see floaters/flashes after sustaining a head/neck/eye injury
Other Type of Flashes: Visual Migraine
Some people who get migraine headaches may experience flashes as well. These are usually shimmering, jagged lights, that gradually start and build in intensity within minutes. The sensation can last anywhere from 5min-45min or so. The headache that is usually throbbing, and may follow after the flashes have passed.
Sometimes it is possible to get the visual effects without the head pain. This is called a migraine variant.
IF you experience any type of flashes it is best to seek immediate attention from an Eye Doctor to rule out the cause!
At Empire Eyewear, all our Doctors are trained to help you with any of these symptoms. Book an appointment as soon as possible if you are experiencing any flashes or floaters.