You may sometimes see small specks or clouds moving in your field of vision. These are called floaters, which can often been seen when one looks at a plain background, like a white wall or a blue sky. Floaters are actually tiny clumps of cells or material inside the vitreous, the clear, gel-like fluid that fills the inside of your eye. Floaters often form when the vitreous gel pulls away from the retina – this is also called a posterior vitreous detachment.
When the vitreous gel pulls on the retina, you may also see what look like flashing lights or lightening streaks. These are called flashes. You may have experienced this same sensation if you have ever been hit in the eye and seen “stars.” The flashes of light can appear off and on for several weeks or months.
The appearance of floaters and flashes may be alarming, especially if they develop very suddenly. It is important to find out if a retinal tear or detachment is occurring. You should call your ophthalmologist if you notice the following symptoms:
- A sudden appearance of flashes or floaters for the first time
- A sudden increase in size and number of floaters
- Having a shadow or curtain appear in the periphery (side) of your field of vision
- Seeing a gray curtain moving across your field of vision
When an ophthalmologist examines your eyes, your pupils may be dilated (enlarged) with eye drops. During this painless examination, we will carefully look at your retina and vitreous.
Vitreous floaters may be a symptom of a tear in the retina, which is a serious problem. If a retinal tear is not treated, the retina may detach from the back of the eye. The only treatments for a detached retina are a laser procedure or surgery. Surgery to remove floaters is almost never required as they usually dissipate with time. Vitamin therapy will not cause floaters to disappear. Even if you have had floaters for years, you should schedule an eye examination with your ophthalmologist if you notice a sudden increase in the size or amount of floaters or a sudden appearance of light flashes – especially if these symptoms are accompanied by any change in your vision.