What are flashes and floaters?

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The eye is filled with a clear, jelly-like substance called the vitreous humour that helps maintain the eye’s shape. Debris within the vitreous humour casts a shadow on the retina at the back of the eye, and appears to ‘float’ in your field of vision. Floaters can appear in a variety of shapes and sizes such as black dots, smoke, shadow or hairs. They are more visible against clear, pale backgrounds such as white walls or blue sky. They move when your eye moves in different directions and seem to dart away when you look at them.

Most floaters are small but larger floaters can be annoying and make activities that require higher concentration, such as reading or driving more difficult. Although most people naturally experience floaters, they are usually harmless. They can also be caused by a Posterior Vitreous Detachment (PVD) or a detachment or tear of the retina (the light sensitive tissue inside the eye). These can also cause symptoms of ‘flashing lights’.

Who is at risk?

Everyone, especially if you are myopic (short sighted) or play certain contact sports such as rugby, boxing and hockey.

How are they treated?

Floaters do not usually cause long-term visual impairment; but you should tell your Optometrist if they occur. We recommend that you have an eye test every two years, unless your Optometrist advises otherwise.

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