Flashes and Floaters
The physicians at Retina Consultants of Minnesota specialize in the treatment of conditions that affect the vitreous, retina, and macula. We strive to serve our patients and the doctors who refer them with the same level of care that we would want for our own families. When conditions like flashes and floaters develop, we are here to provide an accurate diagnosis and the appropriate treatment in order to protect long-term eyesight.
What are flashes and floaters?Flashes and floaters are fairly common. Both of these symptoms often occur together with each other. Patients with flashing lights may describe fireworks or sparks in their vision. Oftentimes the flashing lights are most visible in a dark room. The flashes can sometimes be brought about by eye movement. Floaters often present as spots, cobwebs, or clouds that move around through a patient’s field of view.
Causes of Flashes
Flashes are often caused by tugging on the retina by the vitreous gel. When the retina is disturbed in this manner, it may send “accidental” signals to the brain via the optic nerve. These signals are then interpreted as flashes of light. Another cause of flashing lights is an ocular migraine. Patients with an ocular migraine will report zig-zag shapes in their vision like a kaleidoscope, orbs of light, or blind spots in their vision. There is usually no headache associated with visual phenomena. Ocular migraines typically last for ten to twenty minutes and then resolve on their own.
What causes floaters?
Floaters may appear as webs or clouds moving across the field of vision. Floaters can often be observed when looking at a blank wall or at a relatively empty landscape. Over time, they may become less noticeable and they may stop occurring altogether. A common cause of floaters is a posterior vitreous detachment. This occurs when the vitreous gel in the eye liquifies with age and separates from the retinal surface. The liquified gel then coalesces on itself and the resultant opacities cast a shadow on the retina. Other, more serious conditions like a retinal tear, retinal detachment, vitreous hemorrhage, infections, or inflammatory conditions can also cause floaters.
Are floaters dangerous?
Patients with new onset of flashing lights or floaters should see an eye doctor promptly for a thorough dilated eye exam in order to determine the cause of the symptoms and to treat and underlying issues. In some cases, this may be signs of a detached retina or other more serious conditions.
What is the treatment for flashes and floaters?
Flashes and floaters themselves generally do not require treatment unless they are related to another more serious condition such as a retinal tear, retinal detachment, vitreous hemorrhage, or infection, or inflammation. Treatment for a retinal tear typically involves laser or freezing (also known as cryotherapy) to form a bond around the tear. Retinal tears are usually treated as an office-based procedure. Treatment for a retinal detachment is more extensive and generally requires surgery in an operating room. The types of surgery available include scleral buckle, vitrectomy, or scleral buckle with vitrectomy. Some smaller retinal detachments can be treated in the office with a procedure known as pneumatic retinopexy. The physicians of Retina Consultants of Minnesota have extensive experience in the diagnosis and management of these conditions.