What is it
Floaters are spots or lines that drift across your eyeball from time to time and they are generally nothing to worry about. Called entoptic phenomena, they are sloughed off retinal cells floating in the vitreous the jellylike substance that fills much of your eyeball. From time to time floaters may be bothersome when you’re reading or if they happen to appear directly in your line of vision.
In rare instances floaters can be a danger sign. 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 partial shading of your visual field may indicate that your retina has, or is about to become, detached from your eye a condition that requires immediate medical attention.
Between the ages of 40 and 60, flashes of light will 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.”
- Jagged specks, little lines, spider webs, or circles floating in your field of vision.
- Flashing, flickering, brilliant streaks of light in your line of vision.
A dramatic onset of floaters and flashes, a sudden wavy, watery quality in vision, or a loss of central vision are symptoms of a detached retina, an emergency that requires immediate treatment.
What causes it
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.
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.
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.