Inside of everybody’s eye, there is a gel-like substance that provides the eye with protection and nutrients. This “gel” is called the vitreous, and is responsible for giving the eye its sturdy shape. Throughout life, normal age-related changes occur within the vitreous and can result in strange symptoms, including floaters or flashes of light. In most cases these vitreous changes are routine and harmless. However, in rare occasions, flashes of light and changes in floaters can be a warning signs of retinal problems, including hole, tears, or retinal detachments. Continue reading to learn more about what flashes and floaters can mean for your eyes.
Many people experience “floaters” in their vision. Floaters commonly appear as small dark specks or strings that intermittently enter your vision, and they usually travel along with eye movements. Floaters are typically more noticeable in certain lighting conditions, such as looking at a bright computer screen, and will usually slowly drift out of the field of vision. They are the result of normal changes occurring within the vitreous. As we get older, the gel-like vitreous begins to become a liquid consistency, though clumps of gel will remain. These clumps within the vitreous will cast a shadow on the back of the eye, creating the perception of a floater. So while it seems like floaters are something you are seeing in front of you, they are actually the result of a process within the eye. Floaters are usually completely harmless and do not require any treatment or intervention. While they may be distracting and noticeable at first, they oftentimes become less annoying and easier to ignore over time.
What do Flashes of Light in My Vision Mean?
Changes in the vitreous may also cause people to notice strange flashes of light in their peripheral vision. These flashes are commonly described as lightning bolts or camera lights that occur quickly then disappear. These flashes are associated with an aging process known as a posterior vitreous detachment, or a PVD. In youth, the vitreous gel is lightly attached to the retina, but as we age and the texture of the vitreous begins to change over time, the vitreous slowly and gently separates from the retina. As the vitreous pulls away, it can disrupt the retinal tissue and cause the perception of flashes of light. These flashes can occur sporadically throughout the process of a PVD, and will usually stop occurring when the PVD is complete and the vitreous is entirely separated from the retina. The older you are, the more likely you are to experience the symptoms of a PVD.
Flashes and Floaters as a Warning Sign
Rarely, the process of a posterior vitreous detachment can cause retinal problems. The vitreous pulling away from the retina can result in a retinal tear, which if left untreated, can cause a complete retinal detachment. If a tear or detachment occurs, a sudden and dramatic increase in floaters may appear, or flashes of light can occur more frequently. These retinal problems can occur during or soon after a PVD. Because of these risks, it is always a good idea to see your eye doctor if you are noticing changes in your vision, including changes in your floaters or new flashes of light in your vision.