WHAT IS IT

Complaints of seeing spots, “cobwebs”  or wavy lines in front of the eyes are very common and these are referred to as floaters. Although most commonly occurring in middle age, they can affect anyone and are more noticeable in people who are myopic (short sighted), have undergone cataract surgery or other inflammatory conditions of the eye.

 

Seeing lightning streaks or pinpoint bursts of light, even in a darkened room or with eyes closed is another common complaint, referred to as flashes. These also occur more frequently after middle age but may also be associated with migraines or inherited retinal diseases.

CAUSES OF FLOATERS

The clear, gel-like substance that fills the internal cavity of the eye is called the vitreous. Floaters are actually tiny clumps of gel that drift freely inside the vitreous.

In middle age, degeneration and shrinkage of the vitreous gel occurs, resulting in the formation of crystal-like clumps or strands.  This is known as posterior vitreous detachment and can occur spontaneously as part of the aging process.
In childhood and early adulthood, particles from blood vessels, proteins and pigments formed during development of the eye may also remain suspended in the vitreous fluid.

All these then float across the line of sight and appear as specks in front of the eye.

CAUSES OF FLASHES

Flashes are false bursts of light produced by the light-sensitive tissues of the retina at the back of the eye.  Patients often describe them as “sparks going off within the eye” even under normal lighting conditions.

Flashes result when the vitreous thickens, pulls away from and rubs against the retina, in the normal ageing process.

Other less common causes of flashes could be due to blood vessels problems or retinal disorders.

MANAGEMENT OF FLOATERS AND FLASHES

Floaters and flashes are usually harmless and fade away over time. There is no safe, effective or reliable treatment to prevent or eliminate floaters and flashes.

However, any sudden increase in the number of floaters or flashes which last more than 20 minutes or is accompanied by visual loss should be promptly evaluated by an eye doctor to exclude a retinal tear or detachment.