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Flashes and Floaters “And its not the Fourth of July”

Flashes and Floaters “And its not the Fourth of July!”

It’s late in the day and you just sat down to watch some television when all of a sudden you started seeing muliple black dots in your vision followed by a large black cobweb drifting off in the periphery of your vision.  Then shortly after seeing these floaters, you see a couple flashes of light that look like quick lighting bolts in your peripheral vision. You are experiencing flashes and floaters in your vision, and you need to contact your eye doctor to get things checked out.

At CatinoEyeCare, our Primary Optometric practice in Wilmington, NC, we see a couple of these cases a week.  Since these are unplanned events these are treated as ocular emergencies and worked into our schedules typically the same day.  Now most of the time if the patient is over 55 these symptoms present during an acute event called a Posterior Vitreal Detachment or PVD.  PVD is a normal aging process of the eye where the gel (vitreous) separates from the retina. As the vitreous separates from the retina traction in certain areas can create flashes of light as it pulls away.  Certain areas of the vitreous have tighter attachments than others. One of those places is the optic nerve. Typically when the vitreous separates from the optic nerve it creates a ringlike/cobweb like floater in the central vision.  Patients come in describing this new large floater in their vision that “runs away” when they try to focus on it. During this event a patient may develop enough traction on the retina to create a retinal tear or break. If a retinal tear develops this can lead to a retinal detachment and vision loss.  Statistics show about 1 and 10 cases of PVD, a retina tear occurs. This is the reason any time you are experiencing flashes or floaters no matter your age, you must have a detailed exam with dilation by a licensed optometrist or ophthalmologist. It is critical in these cases to rule out a retinal tear which can lead to a full retinal detachment and complete vision loss.  Sometimes certain vascular conditions which are unrelated to the eye can create similar symptoms that also must be evaluated and referred out for further workup. 

Posterior Vitreal Detachments or PVDs happen to every eye at some point.  I will never forget seeing a patient on an emergency workin for a PVD. She was very irritated after I explained to her what was going on and how a PVD happens to every eye.  The reason why she was so irritated was she felt that there was not enough public education about the process and how important it was to get checked out. That kind of always stuck with me as I continue to practice and take for granted how most of the public is not educated about the importance of this event.  I hope this gives a little education about a very common aging process of the eye that can sometimes have very serious complications that need to be checked out.

CatinoEyeCare Porters Neck Wilmington, NC.  Give us a call at 910.686.8000 or click here to schedule your appointment