Opticians Explain Flashes and Floaters

human eye

Looking after our eyes and having regular eye tests is very important. It is easy to take our vision for granted when completing day-to-day tasks, but we must remember that every day our eyes undergo a huge amount of strain and do need to be cared for. Some would argue that our vision is the most important sense, and in the modern world of screens and technology we must make sure that our vision is taken care of.

Do you experience dots or flashes of light in your vision? If so, it could be a sign that it is time for an eye examination. Below we look at eye floaters and flashes: what they are, what causes them, when to get them examined and treatments that are available.

What are eye floaters and flashes?

Eye floaters are the spots and specks that float about in your line of vision. Floaters can be different shapes and sizes: some are light, some are dark, some are chunky, some are stringy. When we attempt to look at them directly they appear to dart away from our visual field. Floaters are most obvious when looking at a bright plain background and are generally more common than flashes.

Eye flashes are when you notice flashes, spots or pinpricks of light in your field of vision. They also come in different forms: some are wavy, some are jagged and some look like shooting stars. Both are generally painless and harmless.

What causes them?

Eye flashes and floaters occur when the jelly-like substance in our eyeball (known as the vitreous gel) changes, shrinks or becomes more liquid. This process is not uncommon as we grow older and is known as posterior vitreous detachment (PVD).

When you see a floater you are not actually looking directly at the floater itself but instead the shadow that is cast onto the retina. When the vitreous begins to shrink, the gel-like substance becomes stringy, casting shadows onto the retina and causing you to see floaters drift across your field of vision. The retina is the thin layer that lines the back of the eye. This layer converts light energy into electric signals that are sent to your brain and processed into what we see (our vision).

In more extreme cases, eye floaters and flashes can be caused by retinal detachment which is far more serious and can lead to permanent damage to your vision - and therefore requires urgent attention. A detached retina is when this thin, light-sensitive layer becomes loose and detached.

Generally speaking, there is not much you can do to prevent this from happening. You are more at risk of suffering from retinal detachment, however, if you are over the age of 50, have undergone previous eye surgery, have a family history of retinal detachment or are short-sighted.

When should you be worried?

Flashes and floaters are common and are, generally, not a threat to our vision or eyesight. In most cases they do not require any treatment, however sometimes they can be a sign of retinal detachment which, as mentioned above, is a more serious condition and requires attention. Retinal detachment occurs when the shrinking vitreous tugs on the retina, pulling it away from the back of the eye and effectively tearing it. Retinal detachment can permanently damage your vision so it is best to get your eyes checked early rather than leaving the problem and risking vision impairment.

Signs to look out for that may indicate that there is a more serious problem are: blurred vision, pain in your eye, a sudden increase in floaters or flashes, the sudden appearance of floaters or flashes, a decline in your central vision or shading of vision.

What to do about flashes and floaters

Generally, flashes and floaters are fine left alone. In many cases they fade over time as your brain gets used to the change in your vitreous gel. However, should you experience any of the above symptoms, there are a number of things that you can do to get some reassurance and find out what is going on. Call up your optician and book an eyesight test or consult your GP if floaters or flashes are affecting your vision.

If the above symptoms come on very suddenly and you are experiencing pain, an urgent appointment at your opticians may be required. If you are seriously worried, go to A&E or call NHS 111 right away for some advice on what to do next.

What treatments are available?

In most cases eye floaters and flashes are not treated as they are not harmful or painful and do not interrupt our day-to-day lives too much. If the retina has torn, however, there are treatment options available. Retinal detachment can be treated using laser treatment. This process uses laser light to reattach the retina to the back wall of the eye and can be carried out by a ophthalmologist. A detached retina can cause permanent damage to your vision and the earlier you treat it the more chance you have of reducing the risk of this damage.

If the retina has not torn in your eye and the floaters and flashes are simply an annoying inconvenience that do not require treatment, there are a few things that you can do yourself to try and get rid of (or reduce) them.

Simple things like drinking water and flushing toxins out of your body can help improve the health of your eyes, as well as cutting out any caffeine and alcohol. In fact, watching your diet completely and eating antioxidant foods can improve your eye health. Antioxidant foods include dark chocolate, blueberries, kale, beans and spinach. Eye exercises can also help to eliminate floaters and flashes - simply move your eyes up and down and to the left and right to direct the floater away from your vision. Reducing the brightness on your computer and television screens can also help to make floaters less noticeable.

Can glasses and other forms of eyewear cure flashes and floaters?

Eye floaters and flashes cannot be cured by prescription glasses, however if they are becoming a problem and causing trouble when it comes to reading or writing, wearing dark glasses can help this. Wearing tinted lenses or sunglasses minimises the amount of light that enters our eyes and means that the shadows cast by the stringy vitreous gel are much fainter and easier to ignore. You can take a look at our glasses online for some inspiration.

If you have prescription glasses simply wearing these makes your vision clearer and means you are more able to concentrate on what you are doing and can better ignore floaters and flashes. If you have been prescribed glasses make sure you wear them at the appropriate times.

David Paul Opticians: Your choice for professional opticians and eye care services

David Paul Opticians is a professional opticians based in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, offering eye care services such as prescription glasses, sunglasses, contact lenses, eye tests, examinations and retinal imaging. We understand the importance of eye health and our fully qualified opticians are on hand to assist you with any help you may need - from choosing a pair of glasses that suit you to conducting professional eye exams.

If you are worried about your floaters and flashes or are generally concerned about the health of your eyes, we offer advanced eye examinations using the latest diagnostic technology and methods. Our specialist equipment is able to detect conditions in their early stages, such as glaucoma, diabetes and vitreous detachment - all of which can cause serious damage to your vision if not detected and treated early. To book an appointment with us and put your mind at ease, simply get in touch today.