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Floaters and Flashes — Cause for Concern?

Almost everyone experiences floaters and flashes from time to time. Floaters are those dark specks or squiggles that drift across your vision and disappear. Flashes are bursts of light, often described as “seeing stars.”

These visual phenomena are common. When they occur occasionally and in small numbers, they’re not cause for concern. But if you notice a sudden increase in floaters or flashes, or there are so many that they interfere with your vision, it could be an eye emergency.

As a leading San Luis Obispo optometrist, Pacific Eye provides comprehensive eye care for people of all ages. Our team specializes in treating floaters, flashes, and serious eye conditions like retinal detachment.

If you’re concerned about floaters or flashes, it’s time to learn more about why they happen and when you should make an eye doctor appointment.

Recognizing floaters and flashes

Floaters and flashes are common visual disturbances, but noticing these changes can be unsettling. 

Eye floaters

Floaters look like spots, specks, squiggles, or strings. They’re darkly colored, and they can look like shadows in your vision.

Floaters are caused by clumps of protein floating inside your eye. These clumps drift through the vitreous, which is the gel-like interior of your eyeball. If a clump passes in front of the retina at the back of your eye, it casts a shadow and you see a floater.

Eye flashes

Your retina converts light that enters your eye into electrical signals that it sends to your brain. Flashes are a type of visual phenomenon that happens when your retina is stimulated without light. It transmits the message to your brain, and you see bursts of light, or “stars.”

Flashes can occur when your retina is physically stimulated. You might see flashes if you hit your head, stand up too fast, or even rub your eyes too hard.

When floaters and flashers are cause for concern

Most of the time, floaters appear occasionally and settle out of your line of vision on their own. Flashes are also typically short-lived. When floaters or flashes start appearing more frequently or more intensely, it could indicate a serious eye condition like retinal detachment.

You should seek immediate eye care for any of the following conditions:

Seeing more floaters or flashes at a time

Floaters and flashes are usually occasional. If you notice a sudden change in the number of floaters you see at any time or you experience a series of flashes that lasts longer than a second or two, it could be a sign of retinal detachment.

Seeing floaters or flashes more often

As you get older, you might notice more floaters drifting across your line of sight. It’s a normal part of aging, but if you notice a sudden change in how often you’re seeing floaters (or experiencing flashes), you should have your eyes checked.

These symptoms could indicate retinal detachment, which is a serious eye emergency. Retinal detachment could lead to blindness without prompt treatment, but our team at Pacific Eye is highly trained in treating cases of retinal tears and detachment to preserve your vision.

Are you noticing more floaters or flashes in your eyes? Don’t hesitate to get your eyes checked at our at any one of our locations. Contact us online or call the office nearest you for an appointment.

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