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Floaters and flashes – the definitive FAQs

22/06/2021

You may have heard of floaters or flashes, and chances are you have either had one of them or know someone who has. But what are floaters and flashes, how do they come about and what can be done about them? Mr Kurt Spiteri Cornish, Consultant Ophthalmologist at Claremont, takes a closer look.

What causes Floaters?

Floaters are shapes that people can see drifting across their vision. The eye is filled with a jelly like substance called vitreous. Floaters are due to debris floating in the jelly inside the eye. They cast a shadow onto the retina, which we perceive as floaters. Floaters move as the eyes move and drift slowly when your eyes stop moving. Shortsighted (myopic) tend to suffer from them more and they increase as we get older.

What about Flashes?

Flashes occur when the jelly that fills the inside of the eye rubs or tugs against the retina. With increasing age, the jelly can lose its support framework causing it to collapse and come away from the retina (this is called PVD, or posterior vitreous detachment).   The floaters are typically described as “cobwebs” and flashes are usually more commonly seen when moving from a bright to a dark room. The flashes usually subside over 4 to 12 weeks.

How common are flashes and floaters?

Very common. Over 70% of the population experiences these problems at some stage in their life.

Are they related to diet, general health or stress?

No, there is no known relationship between flashes or floaters and diet, stress or general health.

Is there any medication for the prevention or treatment of flashes or floaters?

No, there is no proven medicine, eye drop, vitamin, herb or diet that can prevent or treat them.

Should I be concerned?

In the vast majority of people, floaters do not cause any problem and treatment is not recommended. Sometimes floaters and flashes signal a condition that can lead to vision loss. This is because in some cases, as the jelly pulls away from the retina, it can cause a tear which can cause the retina to peel away from the wall of the eye (retinal detachment). Usually if this occurs, people experience a marked shower of floaters as well as flashes in the periphery of vision. Some people notice a curtain effect coming in from the side, and this requires urgent attention by an eye doctor.

Living with floaters

If the floaters are not a sign of retinal damage, they may disappear or become less noticeable with time.   Some people have very severe floaters which may interfere with driving or daily activities. In these rare cases, it is recommended to see a retinal specialist to discuss what options might be available to them.

If you’re worried, Mr Spiteri Cornish specialises in retinal conditions and will be happy to see you at Claremont.

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