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Flashes & Floaters

The space between the crystalline lens and the retina is filled with a clear, gel-like substance called vitreous. In a newborn, the vitreous has an egg-white consistency and is firmly attached to the retina. With age, the vitreous thins and may separate from the back of the eye. This is called posterior vitreous detachment (PVD), a very common, usually harmless condition.

As the vitreous pulls free from the retina, it is often accompanied by light flashes or floaters. Floaters are caused by tiny bits of vitreous gel or cells that cast shadows on the retina. Flashes occur when the vitreous tugs on the sensitive retina tissue.

However in some patients as the gel separates from the back of the eye, it can tear the retina which can lead to a retinal tear or a retinal detachment. Other causes of flashes and floaters can be inflammation, hemorrhage, or an injury such as a blow to the head may also cause floaters and flashes.

Flashes & Floaters

The most common signs and symptoms are:

  • Black spots or “spider webs” that seem to float in the vision in a cluster or alone
  • Spots that move or remain suspended in one place
  • Flickering or flashing lights that are most prominent when looking at a bright background like a clear, blue sky
  • Sudden decrease of vision along with flashes and floaters
  • Veil or curtain that obstructs part or all of the vision
  • Sudden increase in the number of floaters

Call Retina Consultants of Austin immediately if you notice a sudden shower of floaters, new flashes, a veil or curtain obstructing your vision, or any other change. Our physicians will dilate your pupils with drops and examine the vitreous and retina inside the eye.

Surgery is rarely indicated for PVD except when the floaters obscure the vision. In these cases, surgical removal of the vitreous (vitrectomy) may be considered only if the vision is significantly affected. If the flashes and floaters are related to a problem other than a PVD, surgical treatment may be required.