Seeing Floaters and Flashes? Here’s Why

Sleepy, strained, and sun-soaked eyes can all cause temporary vision anomalies. You may see little specks drifting across your computer screen even if it’s spotless, or you might see brief flashes of bright lights even when there’s no change in the room’s lighting. But if these oddities don’t go away quickly, it’s best to see an ophthalmologist right away to make sure you know what you’re dealing with.

Most people call these flashers and floaters, and ignore them. But Dr. Kim Doan at Advanced Eyecare of Orange County urges her patients throughout Southern California to take these signs seriously. Because while many times these flecks and flashes are harmless, there are some conditions that warrant immediate attention and may damage your vision if left untreated.

Harmless flashers and floaters

About 40% of people over the age of 50 suffer from a condition called vitreous detachment in their eyes. As part of the aging process, the gel-like substance in your eye gets thicker and begins to contract, which makes it pull away from your retina. As the vitreous gel changes viscosity and structure, the cells tend to clump together, which makes it appear as if something is drifting around in your field of vision.

You’re especially at risk if you’re nearsighted, have had cataract surgery, or inflammation in your eyes, but it can happen to anyone. As long as the action of peeling away from your retina doesn’t tear your retina, the floaters and flashers should resolve on their own. But there’s no way for you to know for sure unless you get your eyes checked.

Potentially serious flashers and floaters

If your aging vitreous tears your retina as it contracts, your symptoms will be the same — little gray floating specks or bursts of light — but a torn retina doesn’t self-heal.

With a routine examination, Dr. Doan can determine the exact cause of your symptoms and let you know the best treatment. A retinal tear can almost always be repaired by laser surgery, which only requires a local anesthetic and is very gentle on your eyes. Taking care of a small tear in your retina can prevent future vision damage.

If, however, your vitreous fluid changes have caused your retina to fully detach itself, then the condition is more severe and more urgent. In this case, Dr. Doan may need to perform vitreoretinal surgery to repair the damage and save your vision.

Migraine flashes

If you’re prone to migraines, during an episode the blood vessels in your brain experience a surge or spasm, which can cause you to see jagged flashes or wavy lines of light. You might see the flashes in one or both eyes, and it could last up to 20 minutes. Often, the classic migraine headache follows, but even when it doesn’t, this migraine-relate aura of flashing light is called an ophthalmic or ocular migraine.

The lights may look like stars, shimmering spots, zigzagging lines, or even present as blind spots. These visual disturbances may be triggered by things in your environment or foods and drinks you consume. It’s also possible that they’re brought on by a decrease in blood flow to your retina. Dr. Doan can help you understand your migraine-related vision problems and help you manage your symptoms.

If you’re seeing floaters or flashes, they may be nothing to worry about, but the only way to know for sure is to come see Dr. Doan right away. The best case scenario is that your vision changes are caused by aging, but if it’s more than that or if damage has already been done, the earlier you get treatment, the better.

Call today at any of our three locations in Huntington Beach and Newport Beach or request an appointment online to find out more about what’s causing your floaters and flashers.

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