Between the front of the eye, where the cornea, iris and lens are located, and the back wall of the eye, where the layer of the retina tissue is attached, is the vitreous gel. This is a clear gel, attached to the back wall of your eye, which allows light to pass through to be focused on the retina.
Occasionally, small opaque clumps of the vitreous gel form within your eye. As light passes through the vitreous gel, these tiny clumps cast shadows onto the retina. Everyone has seen these before. They look like little specks of dust or squiggly lines that float across your vision. Like a bird briefly casting a shadow as it flies overhead, they are noticeable but are fleeting and harmless.
As we age, the vitreous gel in our eyes shrinks. While this can lead to more serious issues (see: retinal detachment), more common issues are a noticeable increase in the number of floaters in your vision.
Floaters can appear in greater numbers due to causes other than aging. If you have had surgery for cataracts in the past or are nearsighted, you are more likely to experience an increased number of floaters. Additionally, if you have an eye injury or inflammation inside the eye this too can lead to a more severe case of floaters.
When light is focused on your retina, the retina produces an electrical signal which is then transmitted down your optic nerve to your brain. Your brain takes these signals and makes an image out of them. However, if your retina is physically touched or if the vitreous gel attached to it pulls, this also stimulates your retina to send an electrical signal. Since this signal doesn’t contain information that your brain can turn into an image, this results in you seeing a flash of light. When someone expresses that they were ‘seeing stars’ after being shaken badly or hit hard, what they are seeing are these signals being sent to the brain due to the vitreous fluid in their eyes moving suddenly against the retina.
Posterior Vitreous Detachment (or PVD)
Floaters and flashes by themselves are not serious; however, a sudden increase in floaters and flashes can be indicators of a more serious issue. Posterior vitreous detachment is when the vitreous gel detaches from the retina, resulting in an increase in floaters and flashes. This is a common issue, occurring in over half the population over the age of 80. By itself, PVD is not serious and only rarely leads to something more. However, as it could result in retinal detachment and retinal detachment can lead to permanent vision loss, it is always a good idea to check with your ophthalmologist if you notice an increase in these issues.
Treatment of Floaters
If checked out by an ophthalmologist, floaters can be ignored; however, if the floaters become a visual impairment, a surgical procedure called a vitrectomy can treat the issue. During a vitrectomy, your doctor removes the portion of the vitreous gel containing the floaters, and replaces the vitreous gel with saline.
If you are living with floaters and flashes and would like to see if anything can be done, please contact Eye Surgeons and Consultants of Hollywood, FL today! Be sure to contact us immediately if you experience a sudden increase in flashes or floaters.