Although they may have many varied presentations, floaters typically present as grey/black lines and shapes that you see ‘float’ through some portion of your vision. As your eye moves they move, but tend to drift back to the same general area. Usually, floaters are of no cause for concern- most people will experience them in some capacity or another throughout their lives.
Inside your eye is a gel-like substance called the vitreous (commonly referred to as the vitreous gel). When we are young, the vitreous exists as a gel; as we age, the gel-like vitreous begins to transition to a more liquid state as it dissolves.
However, parts of the gel and microscopic proteins that have clumped together don’t dissolve, creating the floaters that become annoying as they cause visual distraction.
Here’s an interesting fact: when you see floaters you aren’t actually seeing the floaters- you’re seeing the shadow they cast on your retina.
As mentioned, in the vast majority of cases there is no reason to be concerned by seeing the occasional floater in your vision. However, a sudden increase in the quantity, size, frequency and behaviour of your floaters warrants investigation from an Optometrist.
If you notice a dramatic change in the quantity of your floaters, as if they are showering across your vision, please come see us immediately. We will perform a comprehensive eye exam in order to ensure overall eye health. Floaters are known symptoms of several serious eye diseases such as retinal detachment or internal eye bleeding, and while it’s unlikely to be the case, it’s still important to rule out eye disease as a cause.
Sometimes referred to as “flashers” or “eye flashers”, this phenomenon appears as bright flashes or spots of light that “dance” through your field of vision. Unlike floaters, which are quite common, flashes are not something commonly experienced by most people.
The retina receives light stimulation and then transfers that stimulus to the brain via the optic nerve in the form of an electrical signal.
Think of this process like an analog stereo connection, where the retina is the microphone, the optic nerve is the cable that connects the microphone to the amplifier, and the brain itself is the amplifier connected to the whole thing. To introduce static (flashes) to the signal, all you need to do is stimulate the microphone by tapping it or moving it. This stimulation will be interpreted by the microphone and sent to the amplifier as an electrical signal, only the amplifier won’t be able to make sense of the input so it will simply render itself as “static”.
In the case of our retina, physical stimulation (such as the vitreous gel physically tugging at the retina as it breaks loose) will cause the brain to render that stimulation as spots or flashes of light in our vision. This is why people that take significant head impacts often “see stars”.
Every new instance of flashes should be assessed. Unlike floaters, which are usually the result of a natural process resulting from the change in state of the vitreous, flashers generally do not occur without cause. While the cause may prove to be benign, eye flashes are known to occur as a result of developing eye diseases or physical problems within the eye (such as a posterior vitreous detachment).