Many of us note the occasional floater, the presence of new floaters or flashes of light may signal a sight-threatening event. Floaters and flashes are caused by the vitreous gel that fills the eye and lies against the retina. Normal floaters are caused by vitreous degeneration. As we age, the vitreous gel begins to degenerate into clumps of proteinaceous material, which float in the eye. Small specks or clouds moving in your field of vision as you look at a blank wall or a clear blue sky are known as floaters. As the gel separates, it may pull on the retina. The traction on the surface of the retina will stimulate underlying photo-receptors and lead to the perception of light flashes. Flashes look like “twinkles” or lightning streaks.

In some cases, the pulling may cause a retinal tear and/or a blood vessel may tear leading to severe loss of vision. A patient with new floaters or flashes should be examined promptly since these signs may indicate a retinal tear. If diagnosed early, the tear may be treated with laser surgery or freezing therapy (cryotherapy). Doing so will significantly reduce the chance of the tear becoming a retinal detachment.

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