Retinal Conditions - Retina Floaters

Floaters are shadows cast on the retina

The back of the eye has a thin film-like layer (the retina) that acts like the film of a camera. The vitreous gel is an optically clear Jello-O-like substance in the mid and back cavity of the eye that comprises the bulk volume of the eye. When this gel degenerates over time it loses its optical clarity causing small shadows from the areas that are no longer clear to light. These shadows are noted as floaters of various shapes and sizes that appear in the vision.

A sudden shower of floaters can be a warning sign

That the vitreous gel in the back of the eye has torn a blood vessel or that there is an anomaly in the retinal blood vessels that have then led to bleeding in the eye. A new shower of floaters should be evaluated by your eye care specialist as soon as possible. Floaters may, more often than not, be related to normal changes of the eye; but they can also be a warning sign of disease in the eye or in the body as a whole.

Most people will notice floaters at some point in their lifetime. The floaters do remain in the eye, although they become less visible over time as the brain begins to delete the imperfection in the vision. They are most noticeable on a bright sunny day or after a dilated eye exam. It is common to see floaters much more frequently after cataract surgery, as the vision is much clearer and the shadows can become darker when more light enters the eye. Floaters are usually not bothersome but in rare circumstances where floaters do indeed impair the vision, surgical removal of the degenerated vitreous gel can be performed thereby improving the quality of vision. This would be evaluated and addressed by your retinal specialist.

Flashes of light are typically seen as lightning bolts or streaks of bright white light in the peripheral vision.

As the vitreous separates from the retina, it may tug on the retina triggering the flashes of light. This is a warning sign that the retina may be at risk for a retinal tear or detachment. Sometimes flashes appear as pinpoint lights or a kaleidoscope. These can be caused by dangerous interruptions in blood flow, abnormal fluid in the retina, or migraines. New flashes should be evaluated by an eye care specialist promptly in order to minimize risk of vision loss. A separation of the vitreous gel from the retina is natural and happens in every eye eventually; this normal process infrequently requires medical or surgical attention.