“I keep seeing dark patches floating in my vision and sometimes there’s a flash!” A phrase that will often make an Optometrist sit up and listen intently! Flashes and floaters (or sometimes referred to as F+F as optometrists abbreviate them), can be caused by a number of things and are normally down to the eye naturally go through the ageing process.
Why are flashes and floaters in my eyes?
More than 75% of over 65’s experience flashes and floaters, and this occurring, is a relatively normal result of the eye ageing. The flashes and floaters in your eyes normally occur because of the jelly inside of the eyes separates into a watery fluid and stringy collagen fibres.
In some circumstances the jelly substance can completely peel away (called a Posterior Vitreous Detachment), often when this occurs you may see a ring-shaped floater which is larger in size. When the jelly starts to peel it can often pull on the retina (the nerves at the back of the eye) which may well cause the flashes and floaters to appear in the eye.
So what do these Flashes and Floaters look like?
These are normally seen when part of the jelly inside of the eye comes into view. If this has happened to you, you may see this jelly as little black spots or ‘cobweb-like’ strands floating through your vision. In other cases, you may find that the jelly appears to be white or in other cases, flashes of colour at the edge of your vision appear. Regardless of how the jelly appears to you, it’s relatively common that the floaters and flashes will only affect one eye at a time.
Here are the symptoms to look out for:
- A sudden increase of floaters (far too many to count) mostly with flashing lights.
- A new large floater.
- An increasing shadow spreading across the vision of the eye.
- New floaters or flashing lights after hitting the head.
- F+F should not be treated like visual migraines which similarly, can cause flashes or zig-zags or even blind spots in both eyes at the same time. You can do a test on yourself where you cover one of your eyes to see if the light disappears.
So how do I take action?
Posterior Vitreous Detachments and Floaters, in general, don’t require further treatment once examined, but occasionally if you suddenly notice a large number of small floaters or one larger one, it may be a sign of something more serious such as Retinal Detachment. The statistics show that a Retinal Detachment affects just 1 in 10,000 people as a shadow or blank area in your vision is normally the result of the retina pulling away from the back of the eye.
If you had not had any of the symptoms listed above before then it can, of course, be quite worrying. Whether this is the first time or it occurs regularly then it’s always a good idea to get yourself booked in for an Eye Exam as soon as possible so you can get your vision checked. During the appointment, your Optometrist is going to put drops into your eyes so that the pupils will open wider to get a proper look. But plan ahead, as this means you won’t be able to drive for a couple hours after the appointment, so it might be a good idea to bring a friend or trusted colleague to drive you home!