by Kimberly Allen, RN
If you have noticed that there are tiny spots or flashes in your vision you aren’t alone. In fact, 7 out of 10 people will develop spots or flashes by the time they are 70 years of age. These spots are called eye floaters and they can come in different shapes and sizes. eye floaters are considered a normal part of aging.
The changes that occur to the eye as we age is the most common cause of flashes and floaters. Our eyes are filled with a gel like substance called vitreous humor. As we age the vitreous which is normally a gel begins to liquefy. This causes the vitreous to shrink and pull away from the inside wall of your eyeball. As it shrinks it gets stringy and clumpy. It’s these strings and tiny clumps that block areas of light that is passing through the lens toward the retina in the back of your eye. When the light is blocked it creates shadows on the retina which in turn causes the “spots” or eye floaters to appear.
Although aging is the most common cause of eye floaters and flashes it’s not the only cause. Other causes of eye floaters include an injury to your eye, should your eye be hit by something or damaged in an accident you can develop eye floaters. anything that causes inflammation and swelling of your eye can also lead to the development of flashes and floaters. People with diabetes that has damaged the blood vessels leading to the retina, known as diabetic retinopathy, also tend to develop flashes and floaters. People that are nearsighted tend to develop eye floaters more often than others. Other less common causes include crystal like deposits in the vitreous humor as well as intraocular tumors.
There are also different types of floaters that produce different shapes and sizes of floaters. Eye floaters that develop due to the formation of clumps of protein in the vitreous humor usually appears like cobwebs, circles and squiggles as well as like tadpoles. These types of floaters are permanent and do not resolve. Eye floaters that are caused by blood vessels bursting in the retina tend to appear as tiny black dots that can look like a cloud of gnats or smoke. These types of floaters can last for months, however they usually resolve on their own as your body reabsorbs the blood. There is also a condition known as posterior vitreous detachment or PVD that occurs when the vitreous humor pulls away from your retina. When the vitreous humor pulls away from your retina it leaves behind debris which drifts into the vitreous causing floaters. Eye floaters caused by PVD appear as cobwebs or a mist. They can even appear like a veil that blocks a portion of your vision field. These floaters tend to be less noticeable in a few months.
Eye flashes on the other hand are caused by the thickened vitreous humor rubbing and pulling on your retina. As this happens it produces visual effects that resemble light flickers or streaks of lightening. Eye flashes can appear off and on for anywhere from a few weeks to a few months but tend to fade with time.
In most cases, eye floaters do not require treatment, they either resolve on their own or you learn to live with them. However, you should contact your opthamologist if you have eye floaters and they suddenly appear more often than usual or if you start seeing flashes of light with your floaters. If you develop eye pain or lose your peripheral vision you should call your doctor immediately as you may have a more serious condition like a retinal tear or retinal detachment as well as vitreous hemorrhage or detachment. Any of these conditions can cause permanent damage if not treated so if you suspect there may be more to your eye floaters contact your local opthamologist for an evaluation.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.