Flashes and Floaters

Flashing lights and floaters are a common complaint. As we get older, the gel inside the eye, called the vitreous tends to liquefy. This process is a normal part of the aging process of the eye. When this liquefaction occurs, the vitreous tends to shrink causing “floaters” – seen as little black lines that move when you move your eye. They are usually most noticeable when looking at a white background.

Occasionally, as the vitreous shrinks, it can pull on the retina. This pulling stimulates the cells of the retina, called photoreceptors, causing the flashes of light that you might see. Occasionally the pulling can cause a hole or a tear in the lining at the back of the eye, called the retina. If a hole or tear develops in the retina, this can lead to fluid leaking under the retina and a Retinal Detachment can develop.

Most of the patients who experience flashing lights or floaters simply have changes in the vitreous with no damage to the retina. In this case the condition is called “Posterior Vitreous Detachment (PVD)”, and does not require any treatment, simply monitoring for a short period to ensure no holes or tears develop in the retina.

However, ALL patients with a PVD need an urgent examination by an experienced eye surgeon, to ensure that is not a tear in the retina. If the retina is torn urgent treatment is required to prevent the retina from developing a detachment (Retinal Detachment). The treatment usually consists of laser to the retina to surround the hole or tear and is relatively easy to do.
If the the retina has started detaching more invasive surgery is usually required.