What Are Eye Floaters (Posterior Vitreous Detachment)?
Have you ever been lying on your back, looking up at a clear sky and suddenly noticed a slowly moving spec? It probably wasn’t a UFO. More likely, it was common eye flashes and/or floaters: specks, squiggles or cobwebs caught inside the vitreous gel of our eyes that only gets more prominent with age.
Eye floaters are common and usually no cause for alarm. However, they may be a symptom of a developing eye condition or an underlying health issue. Common conditions that may trigger eye floaters include:
- migraines or headaches
- posterior eye inflammation or bleeding
- injury or surgery
- retinal tear or detachment
- diabetic retinopathy
As we age, the vitreous becomes more liquid-like and separates from the retina near the back of the eye. This separation is called a posterior vitreous detachment, or PVD. A PVD naturally occurs in 40% of people by age 40 and nearly 70% by age 70; however, it can occur in younger nearsighted patients or after an eye injury or surgery. As the vitreous separates from the retina one will often see floaters. The floaters are actually shadows, cast upon your retina, of protein and cell debris. Most people learn to ignore them, and many will fade away in time. If, however, they obstruct your vision, try looking up and then down to clear them.
What are eye flashes?
Flashes are bright spots or points of light in your field of vision. You can develop flashes for a few reasons, but one of the most common is when the gel-like vitreous in your eye shrinks and begins to pull on your retina. This is called posterior vitreous detachment. You’re more likely to see flashes as you age and the vitreous of your eye naturally shrinks.
Can you have eye floaters and flashes at the same time?
You can experience floaters and flashes together or on their own. Both floaters and flashes happen when the vitreous pulls on the retina, creating tension.
Are eye flashes and floaters an emergency?
Eye flashes and floaters are usually not an emergency. If you see the occasional eye floater, it typically isn’t something to worry about. You should let your eye doctor know about the floaters and have your eyes checked regularly to make sure there are no other vision issues, but this isn’t an emergency. Most eye floaters and flashes will subside over time. Most patients’ symptoms fade over months, but some will occasionally notice the floaters indefinitely.
However, if you suddenly have more floaters and flashes in your vision than normal, it’s important to see you eye doctor right away. This could be a sign of a retinal tear or detachment and may need to be treated quickly.
In time, the vitreous gel can totally shrink from its structure. It usually happens suddenly and may be accompanied by flashes or streaks of light. New floaters may appear. When this happens, it’s important to make an appointment with an eye doctor for a dilated exam as soon as possible; if the vitreous pulls away too fast, it can tear the retina. This is a serious problem. It can lead to a detached retina and potentially vision loss.
3 ways to get rid of eye floaters
Treating eye floaters depends on the underlying cause. Some cases are harmless, but more severe cases can affect your eye health. If eye floaters begin to impair your vision, there are treatments available to make them less noticeable or remove them.
1. Ignore them
Sometimes the best treatment is nothing at all. In many cases, eye floaters will fade or disappear on their own. If they don’t fade, sometimes your brain will learn to ignore them. As a result, your vision will begin to adapt. You’ll no longer notice them as much.
Coping with eye floaters is the least invasive option to protect your eyes. If the floaters become a nuisance or begin to impair your vision, discuss your options with your eye doctor.
2. Laser Floater Treatment/Laser Vitreolysis
Laser therapy involves aiming lasers directly at the eye floaters. This can cause them to break up and may reduce their presence. While seen as an effective treatment for some cases, some people have noticed little to no improvement. It can also worsen floaters in some instances and can potentially cause a retinal detachment. Discuss your options with your doctor before pursuing any treatment method.
3. Vitrectomy – “Floaterectomy”
Some patients have vitreous floaters serious enough or bothersome enough to consider surgical removal. Those with extensive clouds of debris in the vitreous cavity that move in and out of vision affecting their ability to function normally. These patients complain of the feeling that they cannot read continuously, or while driving a car, the cloud moves in front of their vision and they don’t feel safe driving.
Outpatient surgery with local anesthesia can be utilized during vitrectomy to remove floaters and vitreous debris from your line of vision through a small incision. During this procedure, nearly all the vitreous is removed, and with it, almost all of the vitreous opacities.
Risks associated with vitrectomy include, but are not limited to, cataract formation, retinal tear and detachment, macular pucker, and macular edema (swelling). There is a small risk of vision loss.
Should I Seek Treatment for Eye Flashes and Floaters?
Concerns about seeing spots are only natural, and most of the time it’s just part of the aging process. Come see our doctors about any visual concerns or problems you’re experiencing. A decision to treat is based on patient complaints, symptoms, and exam findings.
At LaserVue Eye Center we provide care for Posterior Vitreous Detachments. Please call 1-800-527-3745 to schedule your appointment today.