Floaters and Flashers

You may sometimes see small specks or clouds moving in your field of vision. These are called floaters. You can often see them when looking at a plain background, like a blank wall or blue sky. Floaters are actually tiny clumps of cells or material inside the vitreous, the clear, gel-like fluid that fills the inside of your eye.

While these objects look like they are in front of your eye, they are actually floating inside it. What you see are the shadows they cast on the retina, the layer of cells lining the back of the eye that senses light and allows you to see. Floaters can appear as different shapes, such as little dots, circles, lines, clouds or cobwebs.  

When the vitreous gel pulls on the retina, you may see what look like flashing lights or lightning streaks. These are called flashes. You may have experienced this same sensation if you have ever been hit in the eye and seen "stars." The flashes of light can appear off and on for several weeks or months.  

As we grow older, it is more common to experience floaters and flashes as the vitreous gel changes with age, gradually pulling away from the inside surface of the eye.

Vitreous floaters may be a symptom of a tear in the retina, which is a serious problem. If a retinal tear is not treated, the retina may detach from the back of the eye. The only treatments for a detached retina are a laser procedure or surgery.

Other floaters are harmless and fade over time or become less bothersome, requiring no treatment. Surgery to remove floaters is almost never required. Vitamin therapy will not cause floaters to disappear.  

Even if you have had floaters for years, you should schedule an eye examination with your ophthalmologist if you notice a sudden increase in the size or amount of floaters or a sudden appearance of light flashes — especially if these symptoms are accompanied by any change in your vision.