Flashes and Floaters

Changes to the Vitreous Jelly of the Eye

Eye floaters are tiny shadows that can appear in a person’s vision. They often show up as small specks or scribbles of grey or black that float into your field of vision. Floaters move with your eyes, and tend to dart away when you try to look directly at them. They can also continue to drift a bit when you stop moving your eyes.  

Flashes occur when the floaters lead to a slight tug or pull on the retina.   Flashes may come before you notice the floaters.  

The combination of flashes and floaters are often the result of a posterior vitreous detachment (PVD).    A PVD is when the vitreous jelly of the eye liquefies with ageing and naturally pulls forward,  loosening itself from the underlying retina.  This is a natural change that most people over 50 experience at some point.  A PVD is generally not a cause for alarm but if you notice the symptoms of flashes and floaters it is important to have your vitreous and retina checked with a dilated eye examination.  

 In less than 1% of people,  the PVD can lead not just to a tug on the retina,  but a tear in the retina.   This tear can then extend -  gradually or more acutely --into a retinal detachment (RD).   Unlike with standard flashes and floaters,  a retinal detachment will lead to progressive blurring and shadowing of your vision.   Part of your visual field can be missing.  Retinal detachments need surgical attention in a timely manner.  

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