Seeing flashing lights? Or ‘floaters’?

Often, people who have healthy eyes see floaters. They appear as spots, lines or cobweb effects, usually when you look at a plain surface such as a white wall or a clear blue sky.  They often appear when the clear jelly in the main part of your eye gets older.  Sometimes the jelly in the main part of your eye shrinks a little and tugs on the retina (the light-sensitive layer) at the back of your eye. This can cause flashes of light at the edge of your vision. These differ from the disturbance of vision that can occur with migraine.

If you suddenly notice a shower of new floaters, or floaters along with flashes or a dark shadow or “curtain” in your vision, then you should seek advice urgently. These symptoms can mean that the retina is tearing and so we advise you to have a detailed eye examination straight away.  You can be seen urgently in Somerset at Optometrists who offer the ACES service. This is NHS funded acute eye condition diagnosis and treatment. This may result in an urgent referral to Eye Casualty at Musgrove Park Hospital.

The retina is at the back of your eye. It receives the images and sends them to the brain. This is one of the things that enable you to see. If the retina tears, it may come away from the back wall of the eye. This is called retinal detachment. It can result in partial or complete loss of vision.

A tear may be treated by using a laser. If treated quickly, you may have a better chance of full recovery. However, if your retina has become detached, you will need surgery. The operation may restore most of your vision but may come too late for a full recovery.

Look out for:      

•       flashes or floaters getting worse;

•       a black shadow in your vision;

•       a sudden cloud of spots;

•       a curtain or veil over your vision; and/or

•       any sudden loss of vision.

It is especially important to have your eyes examined straight-away if you begin to see flashes or floaters for the first time, if they seem to change or if you notice them in increased numbers.  Prompt examination can reduce the risk of permanent visual loss. 

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