Flashers & Floaters in Baltimore
Also serving Pikesville, Glen Burnie & Rosedale
Nearly everyone will experience visual abnormalities known as floaters and flashers at some point in life. Most of the time, floaters and flashers are harmless. But sometimes, they can serve as a warning sign of a serious issue affecting important parts of the visual system.
Dr. Elman, Dr. Schechet and the team at the Elman Retina Group are very knowledgeable about floaters and flashers. We can quickly determine whether they are harmless or symptomatic of a bigger problem that requires expert treatment.
What Are Flashers?
Flashers, or flashes of light, appear as sudden bursts, flickers or streaks of light. They are similar to the phenomenon of “seeing stars” after a blow to the head.
These flashes of light are usually caused by a problem with the vitreous, or the clear, jelly-like substance that fills the center of the eye. The vitreous presses against the retina, which is the delicate layer of light-sensitive tissue lining the back of the eye. With age, the vitreous can shrink and pull away from the retina. When the retina is physically tugged, it sends an electrical impulse to the brain, which the brain interprets as a flash or flicker of light.
Sometimes flashes of light are harmless, but in other cases they may indicate that the retina is peeling away from its normal position along the back wall of the eye (similar to a piece of wallpaper peeling away from a wall). This is called retinal detachment. Retinal detachment requires immediate medical attention to reattach the retina and prevent permanent vision loss.
Flashes of light can also indicate that the retina has developed a small tear or hole from the vitreous tugging on it. If a small tear or hole has appeared, vitreous can enter this opening and lift the retina away from its normal position, leading to retinal detachment.
When To See Our Doctors About Flashers
It is best to schedule a prompt evaluation with one of our doctors if you notice a lot of flashers, or if the flashers are accompanied by a deterioration in your vision. For example, if you notice a shadow in your side vision, or it appears that a curtain is covering part of your visual field, you should contact us right away.
Retinal detachment and retinal tear can be treated several ways. Laser energy can be used to fuse the retina to its normal position at the back of the eye or a gas bubble can be injected into the eye to gently press the retina back into place. A small device called a scleral buckle can be placed on the outside of the eye to fix a detached retina and restore vision. Or, vitrectomy, which involves removing some or all of the vitreous from the eye and replacing it with a saline solution, can also be used to treat the problem.
What are Floaters?
Floaters are spots that appear to drift around in the field of vision. They can look like dots, lines, specks or cobwebs. They appear as if they are in front of or on the eyes, and they whiz away when focusing on them directly.
Most floaters occur when undissolved particles of vitreous clump together and float around in the liquid center of the vitreous, casting shadows on the retina as light passes through the eye.
Other causes of floaters include trauma to the eye and migraine headaches.
When To See Our Doctors About Floaters
If you have had floaters for many years and they have not changed over time, it is probably nothing to be worried about; on the other hand, if you have recently noticed many new floaters, or if the floaters have changed significantly, it is best to schedule an evaluation with one of our eye doctors.
Another indication you should see a doctor is if you experience floaters in combination with flashes of light or other changes in your vision. An examination can determine whether the floaters are harmless or there is a more serious underlying cause.
Persistent floaters that appear to get bigger and start to interfere with vision can be treated one of two ways. Our doctors can perform a vitrectomy; or use a laser beam to break apart large floaters.
If floaters are accompanied by flashes of light, it may indicate retinal detachment. Retinal detachment must be treated promptly to preserve vision.
Frequently Asked Questions About Floaters and Flashes of Light
Will floaters and flashes of light go away on their own?
Floaters may drift out of your view or become less prominent or noticeable over time.
Flashes of light are less likely to go away on their own if you see them routinely. It is best to have your eyes checked for an underlying condition causing the flashers.
If one eye develops floaters or flashes of light, will the other eye develop them?
Yes, it is common for floaters and flashers to affect both eyes.
Can floaters and flashes of light cause total blindness?
Floaters and flashers themselves cannot cause total blindness. However, if they are symptoms of a serious eye condition such as retinal detachment, leaving that condition untreated could lead to blindness.
Can you experience floaters and flashes of light at the same time?
Yes, it is possible to experience floaters and flashes together or on their own.
What happens during an evaluation for floaters or flashers?
One of our retinal specialists will ask you questions about your current and past symptoms and take down your medical history. Special drops will be used to dilate your pupils so the doctor can look at the structures inside your eye. The doctor will specifically look at your vitreous and retina for irregularities. He will use a special microscope to look at certain portions of your retina in detail.
In some cases, we perform a procedure called fluorescein angiography to visualize the tiny blood vessels of the eye. A fluorescein dye is injected into the arm and travels to the eye; the dye allows the doctor to look for any abnormalities, such as a leak, in the eye’s blood vessels.
Who is most likely to get floaters and flashes of light?
Floaters and flashes of light are more common among individuals who:
- Are older (usually those over the age of 50)
- Have regular migraines
- Are very nearsighted
- Have uncontrolled diabetes
- Have a history of eye trauma (e.g., a blow to the eye)
- Have a history of recent eye surgery (e.g., cataract surgery)
Contact Our Retina Specialists
If you are experiencing persistent floaters or flashes of light and would like to be screened by our retinal specialists, please schedule an appointment today.