Have you ever looked up at the clouds on an overcast day and seen little squiggly lines and shapes that seem to float in your peripheral vision? Those squiggles are called “floaters”, and most Canadians will experience them in their lifetime. What about dancing specks of light after blowing your nose or taking a hard hit when playing a sport? Those specks of light – often referred to as “seeing stars” – are called eye flashes (or “flashers”). While commonly known, eye flashes are much less commonly experienced than floaters.
We see hundreds of patients every year for eye flashers and floaters, and understandably, most people have questions when they first notice them. This article should help you make some sense of them as well as to inform you as to when to seek medical assistance.
Inside your eye is a fluid called the vitreous. When you are young the vitreous has a gel-like consistency; with age, this gel begins to liquify and change its structure. As it does this, chunks of the vitreous can clump together and form the floaters that we see in our vision.
These chunks and clumps of vitreous then float in the remaining fluid. When we see floaters in our vision we aren’t actually seeing the floaters- rather, we are seeing the shadows they cast on to our retina.
Most people will begin to see floaters as they age, and in most cases they are harmless.
In the majority of cases, floaters are totally benign and are no cause for alarm. However, they can also be indicative of the development of some eye diseases. Look for:
If you are experiencing symptoms like the above, please visit us for an eye exam to ensure they are indeed harmless.
Flashes are caused by your retina. When light enters your eye and reaches the retina, this energy is converted into an electrical signal that is sent to your brain via the optic nerve. When the retina is stimulated physically, such as after taking a big hit while playing hockey, this stimulation is also sent via the optic nerve. However, as the brain doesn’t really know what to make of this stimulation, it simply displays this signal as the specks of light you see in your vision.
Unlike floaters, flashes are not common and should be investigated by an Optometrist. While they are generally harmless, they can also be indicative of a serious problem such as a posterior vitreous detachment or even a retinal detachment.
Every new incident of flashes should be checked by an Optometrist to ensure eye health.