As the eye ages, the vitreous gel (jelly-like substance in the eye) becomes less solid. As the vitreous gel undergoes this degeneration, parts of the vitreous cast shadows on the retina and are seen as “floaters”. This is a normal aging process and is generally benign. Blood, pigment and inflammatory cells can also result in floaters.
“Flashing lights” are another common symptoms arising from interaction between the vitreous and the retina. When the degenerating vitreous gel pulls on the retina, this mechanical stimulation can give rise to the sensation of flashing lights.
Although floaters and flashing lights are most often caused by vitreous degeneration as described above, they can also indicate the presence of retinal tears and detachments. In case of sudden increase in new floaters and presence of flashes, a detailed dilated retinal exam by an Ophthalmologist is recommended.
In the cases of retinal detachments, the sensation of a “curtain” blocking out part of a person’s vision may accompany floaters and flashing lights.
When Is It Necessary to Seek Consultation?
Any new onset or sudden increase in the number of floaters, with or without flashing lights should prompt a consultation with an eye specialist. If the symptoms are accompanied by a decrease in vision or a “curtain” blocking part of the vision, urgent consultation is required. The purpose of examination is to exclude retinal tears and detachments as a cause of the symptoms as these conditions are potentially binding.
What Treatment Is There?
No treatment is required if floaters or flashing lights are caused by vitreous degenerations. These symptoms may become less obvious or disappear with time. If there is a retinal tear or detachment, laser treatment or surgery will be necessary.