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Floaters and Flashes

Diagram of the eye and Vitreous Detachment“Floaters” and flashes are common for many people, says Dr. Larry Malashock, one of six optometrists at Malbar Vision. A Floater is a term used to describe threads, specks or cobweb-like images that occasionally drift across the line of vision. Flashes are sparks or strands of light that flicker across the eye’s field of vision. Both are usually harmless, but Dr. Malashock recommends having them examined because they can sometimes indicate a more serious condition.

“You never know with a new floater – it could be from a retinal tear, or retinal detachment, which can be an emergency,” says Dr. Malashock.

Most of the time, however, a floater is a tiny cluster of cells, or a fleck of protein lodged in the vitreous humor – the transparent, jellylike tissue filling the eyeball behind the lens.

“Your eyes are filled with all kinds of substances – it’s not a homogenous fluid. It has a variety of substances in it that form little clumps over time, and all these little clumps – when you look at a blue sky or a computer screen, for instance – cause shadows on the retina. They’ll keep floating across your field of vision and most of the time, it’s normal. But when it’s not, it can be severe. So any sudden onset of floaters – that’s something that needs to be checked out.”

Because retinal tears and detachments are painless, there are warnings to be aware of:
•    A new onset of floaters or flashes
•    Rapid decline in your central vision
•    Experiencing gradual shading of vision from one side, like a curtain being drawn