Eye floaters are tiny spots, specks, lines or shapes that enter into your field of vision, appearing to float in front of the eye. They may seem like distant objects, but they are actually the shadows of cells and fibers inside the vitreous, or gel-like portion of the eye^1^.
Floaters are most often isolated occurrences that are a perfectly normal part of vision. However, if they become more frequent, and are accompanied by eye flashes – bursts or streaks of light similar to the “stars”^1^ you may see after taking a blow to the head – it may be a sign of an impending retinal detachment.
In this case, retinal detachment occurs when the retina becomes separated from the nerve tissues and blood supply underneath it. While painless, visually this has a clouding effect that has been likened to a grey curtain moving across the field of vision^2^.
The vitreous gel may shrink, forming tiny clumps in the eye. These clumps cast shadows onto the retina, and the resulting forms and shapes are referred to eye floaters^3^. Sometimes during the process of the vitreous shrinking, it remains partially attached to the retina, and tugs on it. The resulting movement of the retina’s nerve cells can cause eye flashes^1^.
• Visible appearance of black shapes and lines
• Usually wisp-like shapes that go away almost immediately
Most of the time, eye floaters are not a sign of anything harmful, and simply looking up or down can move them out of your field of vision^3^.
However, if they are accompanied by eye flashes, it may be a sign of retinal detachment*, a serious condition that can lead to severe vision loss. For this reason, it’s recommended that anyone who experiences eye flashes schedule an exam with their eye care professional immediately^1^.
* An eye care professional can determine retinal detachment through a number of retinal and pupil response tests, ranging from simple visual acuity testing to an ultrasound of the eye.
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