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What are eye floaters and flashes?

Eye floaters and flashes are symptoms that can occur when the clear vitreous gel that fills the back of the eye separates from the retina, the light-sensitive layer of tissue that lines the inside of the eye that sends visual messages through the optic nerve to the brain. Vitreous separation from the retina, also known as a posterior vitreous detachment, is almost always a normal part of the aging process of the eye. Since there are no pain receptors in the retina or vitreous floaters and flashes are not typically associated with any pain.

Floaters are often visible in different lighting conditions and move when the eye moves. Often patients perceive sort of a whipping phenomenon as the floaters move back and forth with eye movement. Flashes are often more noticeable in dark lighting conditions. Eye floaters and flashes can often be troublesome to patients. They occur suddenly and may disrupt your ability to see and do the things that you like to do.

What causes floaters and flashes in the eye?

Eye floaters and flashes are a sign of vitreous separation. Because of this, it is important to notify your eye doctor of any new changes. Retinal tears and detachments can occur in a small percentage of eyes with a vitreous separation. A retinal tear or detachment is a serious problem that can result in permanent vision loss. All eyes that have new floaters and flashes should be examined carefully by an eye doctor to make sure that no problems are present that need attention. If needed, your eye doctor may recommend you to see an Iowa retina specialist at Wolfe Eye Clinic. 

What exactly are floaters in the eye?

Most eye floaters are actually the strands and opacities that become more visible with aging and separation of the vitreous gel from the retina. When the gel separates from the back of the eye, the point where the gel was attached to the nerve can become visible. Sometimes people see this previous area of attachment as a ring. Occasionally bleeding can occur in an eye during vitreous separation and this can cause floaters as well.

What exactly are flashes in the eye?

The perception of flashing lights inside the eye, also known as photopsias, is usually the result of the vitreous gel pulling on the retina. The mechanical pulling triggers the chemical signals in the cells in the retina sending signals to the brain. Our brain perceives the signals as light. The flashes are a signal that there is still some traction on the retina.

Will flashes and floaters in the eye go away?

In many cases flashes and floaters in the eye will improve over time. Floaters can be very troubling at first, but they often become less noticeable over time. They may not go away, but the floaters often move out of the center part of the vision. This allows the brain to begin to adapt and ignore the floaters even though they are still there. In a small percentage of patients, the floaters persist and can interfere with vision. Persistent floaters can be very aggravating for some individuals. If you're on the search for eye flashes treatment, you may find it difficult to find any. This is because eye flashes treatment doesn't really exist. However, it is important to remember that eye floaters and flashes may be a sign of a retinal tear or detachment, in which case treatment can be vital. Flashes in the eye will most likely go away in the first several weeks following their initial appearance. While in some eyes they can persist over several months, the flashes typically do not interfere with your ability to see and do things that you like to do.

Treatment for Flashes and Floaters in the Eye  

Many people ask about treatment options for flashes or floaters in the eye. Fortunately, in almost all cases, the symptoms are likely to either go away or become much less bothersome for patients over time.

There are some instances where the floaters can persist and interfere with normal visual function. In these circumstances procedures to address floaters can be quite Iowa retina detachment specialist, Dr. Charles Barnes, performs vision exam on patient after reporting floaters in the eye.helpful. When the floaters keep you from working, reading, using a computer, driving, or seeing as well as you would like—it might be time to consult a retina specialist to see if surgery can be considered to address the floaters. In most cases the best way to remove floaters in the eye is with a procedure called a vitrectomy. This procedure is very effective in removing the aggravating floaters that interfere with your vision.

Surgery is only considered after careful consideration with your Wolfe Eye Clinic retina surgeon. Since the problems associated with floaters often improve over time, your surgeon may ask you to watch for a period of time before considering any surgery. Even in the hands of an experienced retina surgeon, sight threatening complications, while rare, are possible. With your retina surgeon, who will explain the risk and benefits of surgery, you can determine whether your floaters are impacting your vision and life enough to have the procedure to remove them. Patients who have bothersome vitreous floaters are thrilled once they are removed and able to see better once the floaters are no longer in the way.

Vitrectomy Surgery for Floaters

A vitrectomy surgery for floaters is a procedure performed in a special operating room equipped for retina surgery.  After you are comfortable with sedation, the retina surgeon removes the vitreous gel using small instruments through tiny ports placed in the sclera, the white part of the eye. The floaters are removed with the vitreous gel and a balanced salt solution is left in place of the gel. Once the surgery is completed the eye is then patched with a bandage and you are then free to go home and relax.

The restrictions after vitrectomy surgery are minimal and there is usually little or no discomfort. You will take some eye drops to prevent infection and promote healing. During the healing process, the saline in the eye is replaced with the eye’s own natural fluid. Typically, you will notice that the floaters are gone or significantly reduced right after surgery and most patients are very happy with the results.  If you have floaters in the other eye, an additional surgery can usually occur shortly after the first eye has healed.

What about laser treatment for vitreous floaters?

Lasers have been used to try and treat floaters for many years. The lasers often break up the floaters into many pieces and result in more floaters and may make the problem worse. Unfortunately, the laser treatments are also associated with serious complications including retinal tear and detachment. For these reasons, retina specialists tend to prefer a small gauge vitrectomy to address visually significant floaters.

Is there a Retina Surgeon near me who can treat vitreous floaters?

Wolfe Eye Clinic has expertise in treating floaters and many other conditions of the eye. Wolfe Eye Clinic offers complete retina services in Iowa, including Ames, Cedar Falls, Cedar Rapids, Des Moines, Fort Dodge, Iowa City, Marshalltown, Ottumwa, Spencer, Waterloo, and Pleasant Hill.

If you have any retina-related questions or would like to schedule an appointment, please call us at (833) 474-5850 or request information here.