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Floaters & Flashes

Floaters are small particles that float around in the clear gel (vitreous) that fills the back part of the eye. Natural floaters are common, especially in very near-sighted people, and are collagen fibers found in the vitreous. They are most easily seen on sunny days, white backgrounds or on computer screens. Some may appear clear with gray outlines but others are darker. Noticing a few floaters is usually not an emergency but the patient should be examined by an eye doctor within 1-2 days. No treatment is necessary or available for these floaters.

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When multiple dark floaters or a large veil-like floater is seen suddenly, the patient needs immediate evaluation by an eye doctor. These floaters are often seen during a posterior vitreous detachment (PVD) and may be linked with flashes, which are sudden quick burst of light seen peripherally. PVD is a natural process of aging and occurs when the vitreous, which is attached to the retina, starts collapsing and pulling free of the retina. Eye movement causes the vitreous to jostle and therefore tug on the retina. This results in flashes, which are usually seen in dark environments and may be repetitive. Sometimes this pulling force result in a retinal tear, releasing blood or pigment cells (floaters). A retinal tear can be contained with laser treatment before it leads to a retinal detachment, which causes loss of peripheral or complete vision. A detachment requires surgery. PVD may occur earlier in life from trauma to the eye or head.