Elke, I see tiny black-shaped specks that seems to drift or move when I try to read or work on the computer!

What you notice there, Ilse, are floaters which are tiny clumps of gel or flecks of protein in the vitreous that fills your eyeball behind the lens. For most individuals the cause of floaters is age-related and may present with different shapes, such as little dots, circles, lines or cobwebs. Some people even see tiny insect-like creatures.

Floaters may appear or seem like they are in front of your eyes but are floating on the inside where they cast shadows on the back of the eye, called the retina. They move as your eye move and appear to zoom away when you try to look directly at them and drift slowly when your eyes stop moving.

Yes, sometimes they can be a real nuisance! Although most people tolerate floaters just fine, others feel that they affect their vision and disrupt their ability to read.

What if I see flashes?

When we are young, the vitreous gel is firmly attached to the back of our eye. As we get older, the vitreous gel naturally becomes more liquid and collapses away from the retina. This rubbing or pulling effect causes flashing lights or lightening streaks in front of one of your eyes.

The flashes don’t last for a set length of time, but you may notice them more if you go from a light to dark environment. You might even see flashes on and off for weeks or even months!

Sometimes certain people have light flashes that look like jagged lines or heat waves. These can appear in one or both eyes and may last up to 20 minutes. This type of flash may be caused by a migraine (a spasm of blood vessels in the brain). When you get a headache after these flashes, it is called a “migraine headache”.  Sometimes you only see the light flash without having a headache and is called “ophthalmic migraine” or “migraine without headache”.

Occasionally a sudden increase in floaters – either one or more large ones or a shower of tiny ones – may be a sign of a more serious eye disease such as a retinal detachment. This is when your retina pulls away from the back of your eye, and it may lead to a sudden increase in floaters and possibly a blank spot or shadow in your vision which does not go away. This needs immediate attention by an Ophthalmologist, if not it can lead to permanent vision loss. 

But there is good news for these floaters that remain in your vision because many of them will fade over time and become less bothersome. If they become a nuisance, for example, when reading, move your eyes up and down, or left and right. This can shift the floater and may provide temporary relief.

Most of the time not all floaters and flashes are serious, but you should always have an eye examination to make sure there has been no damage done to your retina.

Treatment for floaters and flashes depends on the underlying condition but act urgently if the following occur:

  • One new, large floater or ‘showers’ of floaters appear suddenly
  • Sudden flashes of light (especially it they are persistent)
  • Loss of side vision or if it looks as if a shade or curtain is being drawn over your field of vision 

So next time you attempt to swat an ‘insect’ in the line of vision and you notice to your own embarrassment that it is not, remember the inside story of your eye!

Keep clear!

If you have more question, please do not hesitate to call me.

Love Your Eyes

Elke Smit

Elke is the owner of Eyestyle Optometrist. Her passion is to promote eye health and eye care but she is even more passionate about the people behind the eyes. The most important factor is good eyesight which gives us the ability to see the beauty in all things around us.

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