Floaters (or “spots”) affect a huge number of Canadians, though they are more prominent in older individuals. They are the small, semi-transparent squiggles or specks which float around your vision. They’re completely natural, and you’ve probably noticed them when looking in a mirror or at another bright surface.
Flashes, on the other hand, are disruptions to your vision caused by trauma or impact on the optic nerve. Often indicative of an underlying problem, they are frequently referred to as “seeing stars”.
If you notice floaters or experience flashes for the first time, arrange an appointment for a full eye health exam – vision problems can follow swiftly, so this is important.
Inside your eyeball, between the cornea and the retina, is an expanse of gel-like substance called the vitreous. Over time, the water elements in the vitreous molecules break down, transforming the gel into a more liquid state.
This change also introduces minute particles which simply float around in the liquid.
On their own, floaters are almost always benign and harmless. However, if you notice a sudden increase in the number or activity of floaters this can be a sign of a retinal tear or hole. A good rule of thumb is to visit an optometrist:
Floaters are permanent. Over time, your eye begins to compensate for their presence and starts to ignore them. As a result they stop being noticeable and, often, cease to impact your vision at all.
Flashes are a little different. When light passes the cornea and lands on the retina, it is transmitted to the brain through the optic nerve. Flashes are the visual result of any trauma or impact to the optic nerve.
They are often indicative of a serious underlying condition. After any head trauma (like a collision in sports) the retina or optic nerve can be damaged. You may be concussed, and it’s important to check with one of our specialists soon after the injury.
Remember you do not have to fall unconscious to suffer from concussion. If you have any flashing sensations in your vision, consider arranging an emergency eye exam so we can investigate - you may be at risk of retinal detachment, which, if left untreated, can cause total blindness in the eye.
You can find us on the corner of St Paul St and 3rd Ave. We are 3 blocks down 3rd Ave from Royal Inland Hospital, towards downtown. Our office is across the street from the Telus Store and Stuart Wood school yard (where the summer Farmer’s Market is on Saturdays).