Floaters and flashes - the Saga Continues

Jan 31, 2018

Credit DoctorOnCall

Just two weeks ago I started down a road of vision changes that I had never experienced before - floaters and flashes in my field of vision in my right eye.  After some rapid changes over three days, a torn retina was discovered and repaired.  On my one-week check-up, all looked good.  That was then...this is now.

Just 16 days after this journey began, my left eye developed a floater.  Not a big deal, just one small spot and a light little squiggle.  But then I noticed the flashes.  Wow...what a difference.  Instead of quick bright flashes at the edge of my vision in the right eye, the left eye exhibited significant and frequent "shooting stars" that I could see flying from lower left to upper left side of my vision.  It was like a virtual meteor shower of flashes. 

As I walked into the office of the retinal specialist, I readied myself for a repeat procedure.  But this time no procedure was necessary.  Here's what I've learned.

The vitreous is a clear, gel-like fluid that fills the inside of the eye.  As we age, the vitreous gel may start to shrink or thicken, forming clumps or strands inside the eye.  As this happens, the vitreous gel pulls away from the back wall of the eye, called a vitreous detachment.  As it pulls away, it can tear the retina, causing floaters, or small amounts of blood or cells, to form in the vitreous. A tear can be repaired, as I had done in the first eye.  A vitreous detachment alone, what I experienced in the second eye, did not require surgery/repair.  The resulting floater and shower of flashes may last for weeks or months, but generally these do go away, or our brains begin to ignore them.

This is my story, but you may have your own.  I encourage you to be aware of any changes in your vision and contact your eye care professional if any of these symptoms occur.  Many have asked me if I can feel any of this, or if it hurts.  For me, the answer is a definite NO.  I have felt nothing and experience no pain. But please don't base your actions on my story.  Be proactive and advocate for yourself.  Taking early action may prevent much greater problems that could require more significant surgery or treatment, and could save your vision.  

Technical descriptions I have shared come from the American Academy of Ophthalmology's eyeSmart flyer.  Get more information here.

Original Story: As Program Director of WXXI Reachout Radio, I've been working in the field of vision loss since 1986 and I've met people with many, many eye conditions and stories to tell.  But this week, one of those stories became my own.  With no notice I began experiencing floaters in one eye, and I soon realized that I was also experiencing flashes.  I knew a little about these, as I had written a short post on them back in 2017.  I knew that I needed to follow up quickly, and thankfully, I did.

Credit opmed.com.au

According to the American Optometric Association, Spots (often called floaters) are small, semitransparent or cloudy particles within the vitreous, which is the clear, jelly-like fluid that fills the inside of your eyes. These spots can appear as specks of various shapes and sizes, threadlike strands or cobwebs. Because they are in your eyes, they move as your eyes move and seem to dart away when you try to look at them directly.

Spots are often caused by small flecks of protein or other matter that became trapped when your eyes formed before birth. They can also appear as the vitreous fluid deteriorates due to aging. Also, certain eye diseases or injuries can cause the appearance of spots.

Most spots are not harmful, and they rarely limit vision. They are a natural part of the eye's aging process. But, spots can be an indication of more serious problems. If you suddenly see more floaters than normal, along with bright, flashing lights, see your optometrist immediately. This could be a sign that you have a tear in your retina, and it could detach. This should be treated immediately to prevent serious loss of vision.

Knowing this, I immediately contacted my eye care provider.  Sure enough I had a torn retina that required surgery right away.  The good news was that the retina had not detached and cryo retinopexy was able to treat the problem.  (Both lasers and cryo retinopexy used today.)  Here's a great article with lots more information on floaters, retinal tears and detachments from the American Foundation for the Blind.

Like 90% of patients (according to my doctor) I was petrified about anyone having to do anything to my eye.  But his reassuring manner and explanation of everything made it better.  The procedure took about :30 seconds and was completely painless.  I was back at work the next day.

I share this story, because I want to encourage you that if you are dealing with floaters and flashes, please contact your eye care providers immediately.  I also want to assure you that the procedure to repair this retinal tear was painless and quick.  If I had waited, the retina could have detached and then it would have been a much more serious surgery. 

So pay attention to your body and be proactive in taking care of your eyes and your vision.  It's well worth it!

UPDATE:  It's been one week since my cryo retinopexy and all looks like it was a success.  I still have one big floater that annoys me in my field of vision, but they tell me that it should eventually go away.  I learn more though about this every time I go to see the doctor, like the fact that they will follow me for three months, because having a retinal tear means that more could happen. 

So again, I encourage you to pay attention to your vision.  See your doctor.  Ask plenty of questions.  Learn all the facts and advocate for yourself.  You and your vision are worth it!