One of the most amazing things about eyes is we can see them working. For example, if we stand in front of a mirror, we can see our pupils dilate. But sometimes the ability to see how our eyes are working can be a little bit strange if not downright unsettling.
Flashes and floaters are both examples of us seeing a little bit of our own eyes’ inner workings. Though both these phenomena are normal to an extent, both tend to baffle people when they happen. It’s important to understand how your eyes work so you can tell the difference between something normal and a signal that something is wrong.
The term floaters refers to the mysterious floating shapes that seem to appear in the margins of your vision from time to time. To understand floaters, we first need to understand the vitreous.
The inside of your eye is filled with a substance called the vitreous. At birth, the vitreous has a consistency similar to jelly. But as you age, the vitreous starts to dissolve into a liquid. The dissolution process doesn’t always happen evenly, leaving small chunks of undissolved vitreous floating in the liquid of the dissolved vitreous.
A floater is simply the reflection of an undissolved piece of vitreous floating around inside your eye. These floaters come in several shapes; sometimes looking like tiny strings, little o shapes, or small clumps. Floaters often become more common with age.
Floaters are very normal and don’t typically indicate anything other than age. However, if you notice a sudden change in floater size, shape, or frequency, you should seek immediate medical help. This is especially true if you see a sudden downward shower of floaters. If you experience this, you need emergency medical attention.
The term flashes refers to random flashes of light that seem to come out of nowhere. To understand flashes, we first need to understand a little bit about how the retina works.
The retina is a very sensitive system of tissues covering most of the interior of the eye. When light hits these tissues, it stimulates the retina to send an impulse through the optic nerve. The impulse travels up to the brain where it is then interpreted as an image. Because the retina is so sensitive any sudden movement or slight touch is enough to stimulate it.
A flash is just a visual representation of your retina being stimulated. As we age, the vitreous often starts to shrink away from the retina; sometimes tugging on the retina as it does. This gentle tug is enough to stimulate the retina, sending an impulse through the optic nerve to the brain. The brain then interprets this impulse as a flash of light.
Hard impact and sudden movement can also be enough to trigger a flash. For example, if you hit your head, you’ll most likely see a flash. This is because the impact jostled the retina, stimulating it.
If you start to notice flashes coming in repeated waves, it most likely indicates a problem. This is especially true if you experience flashes in conjunction with a downward shower of flashes, as this is typically what happens during a retinal detachment or tear. If you notice repeating waves of flashes and a sudden increase in floaters, you need to get medical help right away.
Airdrie Family Eye Doctors are located on main street south of the Tower Lane Mall Safeway. Come “see” us today! Or, feel free to call our clinic phone number.
705 Main St S, Suite 150
Airdrie, AB T4B 3M2