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Flashes and Floaters

Diagram of fluid shift in the eye
and detachment of the Vitreous.
Flashes and floaters could be a sign of a Posterior Vitreous Detachment (PVD) or a retinal tear. The vitreous is the clear gelly that fills the center of the eyeball. It is made of water and protein with the consistency of egg white. As we age, the protein structure breaks down and clumps of protein are seen as "floaters."

The vitreous may degenerate to the point where it separates from the eye wall. This is called a Posterior Vitreous Detachment (PVD). A PVD usually does not cause any problems. However, sometimes as the vitreous separates from the retina it may tug and cause a tear. This tugging on the retina causes flashes of light to be seen. Seeing flashes of light does not mean that one has a retinal tear, but it is a worrisome sign. If a retinal tear is detected early it can be treated with laser in the office. However, a tear may progress to retinal detachment at which point more extensive treatment is needed.

Whenever one sees a sudden onset of floater with or without flashes, an eye examination should be sought to rule out a retinal tear.
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