Flashers & Floaters

Floaters are the dark spots or wavy lines which appear in your vision particularly if you look at a white wall or blue sky. They move with your eye, sometime patients say like a spider in the vision, but lag slightly behind the eye movement.

Are they anything to be concerned about?

Most people have a few floaters, particularly if you are short-sighted, and they tend to increase as you get older. If there is any sudden change in the appearance of the floaters, especially if they are associated with flashes of light, this needs investigation immediately to differentiate between posterior vitreous detachment (which is common in the over 60s and not sight threatening) and retinal detachment.

What is Posterior Vitreous Detachment (PVD)?

PVD occurs most commonly in the over 60s as the vitreous jelly in the eye condenses slightly and separates fractionally from the underlying retina, accompanied by a sudden increase in floaters and sometimes flashes of light. PVD is common and in most cases perfectly harmless. Statistically in the 6 weeks after a PVD you are considered to be at higher risk of a retinal detachment.

What is a Retinal Detachment?

The retina is the very thin lining of the back of the eye which receives images and then sends the information along the optic nerve to the brain. This tissue is very thin and may tear or break. The tear then becomes worse and floaters appear in the vision often like a cobweb. As the retina peels off in a detachment, people say it?s like a veil or curtain coming down over their vision.

What causes the flashes of light?

In both PVD and retinal detachment, flashes of light occur when the vitreous jelly pulls on the retina at the points where it is attached. The nerve receptors are stimulated by this traction (pulling) and fire off a message to the brain. The brain interprets this as a flash of light.

Is Retinal Detachment serious?

Yes, very. The retina receives its nourishment from the underlying tissues of the eye and, when detached from the blood supply is starved of oxygen and quickly dies. A detached retina needs to be reattached very quickly to prevent blindness in the detached area.

What should I do if I get a sudden onset of floaters and flashes of light?

Seek immediate help from an eyecare professional, if necessary go directly to Accident and Emergency as it is vital that your eyes are checked as soon as possible.

How can Retinal Detachment be treated?

Treatment is by an ophthalmologist using a very special ophthalmic laser to weld the retina back. The sooner repair occurs the better chance of retaining useful vision.

Are certain people more at risk of Retinal Detachment?

Yes, causes of retinal detachment include trauma (road traffic accidents, bungee jumping, boxing) and certain eye conditions predispose people to detachment including people who are very short-sighted and who have had operations on their eye such as cataract removal.

I am very short-sighted - how can I tell if I am at particular risk?

We recommend all patients have a retinal examination which can show any problems with the peripheral retinal such as small breaks and tears before detachment occurs. In such cases, referral for preventative laser is advised.