Floaters are actually cellular debris within the vitreous, the jelly-like fluid that fills the inside of the eye. They may be seen as strings, streaks, clouds, bugs, dots, dust, or spider webs. These objects appear to be in front of the eye, but they are really floating in this fluid, and at the same time, casting their shadows on the retina, the light sensing inner layer of the eye. The debris could be made up of blood, torn retinal tissue, inflammation, vitreous detachment, or could simply mean a normal aging change in the vitreous. Floaters could also signify retinal tears that might be threatening for vision loss.
The vitreous fluid degenerates during the middle age years, often forming minute debris within the eye. Floaters are also often noticed in people who are nearsighted (myopic), and those who have been operated on for cataract or Yag laser surgery.
Floaters could interfere with reading, and can be quite bothersome. Even though there is no treatment or cure, they may slowly fade out over time. One possible remedy is to move the eyes up and down when a floater appears. The vitreous fluid may shift, thus permitting the floater to move out of the line of vision.
For the most part, floaters are usually nothing to worry about, being simply a result of the normal aging development. Usually it is recommended to see an Ophthalmologist within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms, as floaters could also denote a serious eye disease such as retinal detachment. The vitreous covers the retina surface, and sometimes the retina is torn when degenerating vitreous is pulled away. This leads to a small amount of bleeding, which may be interpreted as a new cluster of floaters. A torn retina is serious, and could possibly develop into a retinal detachment. Consequently, any new floaters that appear should be seen and evaluated by a doctor.
When the vitreous gel rubs against or pulls on the retina, it can produce the illusion of flashing lights. Flashers can be perceived as a sparkle, disco light, fireflies, lightning, fire works, or sparks. The same experience can happen after being hit in the eye, giving the illusion of seeing stars. All of these flashers are generated by any abnormal stimulus to the retina.
Light flashes can happen on and off for many weeks, or even some months. This is a common occurrence during the aging process, and it is generally not cause for concern. At times, however, a significant number of new floaters will appear, accompanied by light flashes, and partial sight loss of peripheral vision could occur. If this happens, it is important to see an ophthalmologist quickly in order to evaluate whether the cause is a torn retina or retina detachment.
Migraine flashers appear as zigzag, shimmering, or even colorful, lines that may move within the visual field. They usually last from five to thirty minutes and can occur in both eyes at once. They are most likely caused by a sudden spasm of blood vessels in the brain. These flashers are often associated with headache, nausea, or dizziness, but more often occur without such symptoms. In this case, they are commonly called an ophthalmic migraine, or a migraine without the other accompanying symptoms.
As in the case with floaters, an eye specialist should attend to any abrupt onset of an abundance of light flashes. The exam would involve close observation of the retina and vitreous fluid.
Floaters and Flashers are common visual symptoms that can be representative of normal aging changes in the eye or the onset of an eye disease that could lead to vision loss if left unattended. It is always prudent to consult an eye specialist when such vision changes occur.
Principal source: www.revophth.com
For further information, see the MD Support Eye Diseases and Glossary