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Flashes & Floaters

Flashes & Floaters: Common Eye Anomalies

Sometimes your eyes just start doing weird things, seemingly without reason. The muscles start to twitch, or you think you see something moving out of the corner of your eye. Everyone is familiar with these sorts of things, and we all know they’re harmless. But what about a random shape floating at the edge of your vision, or a sudden flash of light? Are those normal too? And more importantly, are they harmless?

When Should I be Concerned?

As a general rule, flashes are never a great thing, particularly if they seem to be coming in waves. You should always seek medical help after any kind of head injury, just to be safe.

Floaters, on the other hand, only really indicate a problem when they suddenly change. If you notice a sudden increase of floaters, seek medical attention, particularly if they appear to be coming in a downward shower accompanied by flashes. This could indicate retinal tearing or detachment which requires immediate repair.

Ask Your Doctor

If you’re concerned about flashes, floaters, or any other eye symptoms you may be experiencing: see your doctor. Ultimately, you know your body best, and it never hurts to double check with a healthcare professional.

What Are Flashes?

The back of your eye is covered with a number of complex layers of tissue called the retina. The retina is responsible for taking in light and sending it as a message to your brain through the optic nerve. The retina is very sensitive and easily stimulated. When you see a sudden flash of light that wasn’t actually there, it’s usually because something moved or touched your retina, stimulating it to send a signal to your brain. Your brain then interprets this signal as a flash.

Why Do Flashes Happen

Many things create enough force to shake your retinas and trigger this kind of reaction. Getting hit on the head or coming to a sudden stop are both common causes of flashes. When a cartoon character is hit on the head and starts “seeing stars”, this is just a representation of the retina’s reaction to the impact.

What are Floaters?

That random shape floating around in the corner of your vision is what we call a floater. Sometimes it looks like a squiggly line; sometimes it looks like a doughnut. No matter what shape it’s in, you can’t seem to look directly at it.
The shape is really nothing more than a piece of the inside of your eye (the vitreous) floating around. For the most part, it’s totally harmless.

When you’re born, the substance that fills your eye called the vitreous is like a jelly. As you get older, it sort of melts or dissolves. The floating shapes you see are simply pieces of the vitreous that haven’t dissolved yet floating around inside your eye.

Because floaters don’t really impact your ability to see, doctors don’t typically treat them. For the most part, they’re just an occasional annoyance that comes along with being human; like the visual equivalent of the hiccups. However, if they start to become so frequent, they become a significant distraction, there is a procedure to remove them.

An ophthalmologist removes the vitreous, replacing it with a fluid that serves the same purpose. By removing the vitreous altogether, the doctor gets rid of any undissolved pieces, therefore eliminating floaters.

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