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Sudden Flashes and Floaters – Should I Find an Optometrist Near Me Immediately?

For some people, the appearance of sudden flashing lights in the vision accompanied with floating specks or lines can be alarming. They understandably ask the question “Should I find an optometrist near me immediately?”

For others, it may be an odd observation that is soon forgotten amidst the general busyness of everyday life.

So, what causes flashes and floaters? And more importantly, what are you supposed to do about them?

What are Flashes and Floaters?

Also known as photopsia, these flashes of light are often described as a lightning arc noticed out of the corner of your eye, often more noticeable when your environment is dim. They can also be described as seeing a reflection off a surface.

Floaters are often mistaken for a fly or other insect in your vision. They can also present like squiggles or be cobweb-like in appearance. You may see one or a few discrete floaters, or you may experience a sudden shower of many tiny dots.

What Do They Mean?

Flashes and floaters originate from inside the eyeball – there is actually no lightning in the distance, nor is there a fly buzzing around your face. There are two common reasons for flashes and floaters.

Posterior vitreous detachment (PVD)

A PVD is a normal age-related change to the vitreous gel occupying the back half of the eyeball. As we age, this gel loses its solid molecular arrangement and slowly begins to liquify. Because the vitreous is attached to certain parts of the light-sensing retina, as it collapses in on itself, it can tug at these points. This tugging mechanically stimulates the perception of light from the retina, which is what you see as photopsia. Floaters during a PVD can occur from strands of vitreous floating around pockets of liquid, or from tufts of retinal tissue that have been pulled off as the vitreous shrinks away from its points of attachment.

Retinal detachment.

A retinal detachment is considered a sight-threatening eye condition. The retina lines the inside of the eyeball. During a detachment, it peels away from its underlying tissues, much like wallpaper peeling away from the wall. The retina relies on support from the underlying tissues to function – if it becomes detached, it is no longer able to receive blood supply or nutrients, nor is it able to send on its neural signals for vision. Flashes during a retinal detachment are due to mechanical stimulation of the sensory photoreceptors, while floaters can be from fragments of retinal tissue or blood cells from broken retinal capillaries. A retinal detachment may only involve a small area of retina or can be extensive; it may involve the macula (affecting your central vision), or the macula may be preserved. Another telling symptom of retinal detachment includes noticing a shadow or dark curtain across part of your sight.

What Should I Do?

Any observation of flashes with or without floaters should be investigated by an optometrist promptly. Your local optometrist is well-equipped to assess the state of your retina and advise whether it’s a normal PVD that requires monitoring or a retinal detachment that requires urgent referral to an ophthalmologist.

You can expect to have eyedrops that will dilate your pupil so your optometrist can get a good view of the retina. With these drops in effect, you will not be able to drive for a couple of hours afterward, you’ll be very glare sensitive, and your near vision may be blurry.

The sudden onset of flashes and floaters should not be ignored, even if your vision is otherwise fine. If you experience these symptoms, contact your local Canberra optometrist on the same day for further advice on what to do.

For all appointments visit www.juniceyecare.com.au or call (02) 6152 8585 and book in with Canberra Optometrist.

Author: Juliet Menakaya, O.D MPH

CANBERRA OPTOMETRIST Juliet obtained her Doctor of Optometry degree from the University of Benin, Nigeria in 2006. She completed an internship programme before migrating to Australia, where she completed a master’s degree in public health at the University of Sydney in 2014. Following this, Juliet obtained a Master of Orthoptics from the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) in 2017. Juliet has completed her competency in optometry examination with OCANZ (Optometry Council of Australia and New Zealand), and obtained her ophthalmic prescribing rights from ACO (Australian College Of Optometry Victoria). Juliet has worked in various positions, including retail Optometry, the Ophthalmology Department at Canberra Hospital, and more recently, at the John Curtin School of Medical Research (ANU). As a dedicated Canberra optometrist, Juliet is passionate about helping people with low vision, and binocular vision anomalies hence her interests in Low Vision Rehabilitation, Eccentric Viewing Training and Paediatric optometry.