Most of us have seen floaters or spots when looking at a plain background like the sky. Floaters may appear as specks, strands, webs or shapes moving in your field of vision. You do not see the actual floater but the shadow it casts on the retina. Small clumps of condensed protein or cells that form in the vitreous, are suspended in the clear fluid that fills the interior cavity of the eye. Since the floater is within your eye, and moves with it, any effort to look directly at the floater causes it to instantly dart away as your eye turns.

In most cases, floaters are part of the natural aging process. As we grow older, the vitreous shrinks and pulls free of its attachments in the back of the eye. This event is called a Posterior Vitreous Detachment (PVD). When this happens, a large floater is usually seen which can resemble a cobweb. A PVD is frequently associated with the sensation of flashing lights as a result of the vitreous pulling free of the retina.

The onset of new light flashes, especially when accompanied by the appearance of many new floaters or the sensation of a curtain coming down may indicate a retinal tear or detachment. If you experience light flashes in combination with these symptoms, call the office immediately.

For a printable explanation of flashes and floaters click here