Floaters appear as dark or transparent spots, lines or cobweb effects. They are usually noticed when looking at a plain surface such as a white wall or a clear blue sky. They are fairly common, even in healthy eyes.
Sometimes the jelly (vitreous) substance which fills the eyeball can shrink as we age and tug on the retina (light-sensitive layer at the back of the eye). This can cause flashes of light at the edge of your vision. These differ from the disturbance of vision that can occur with a migraine.
If you suddenly notice a shower of new floaters, or floaters together with flashes, or a shadow/curtain across your vision, you should seek advice urgently. These symptoms can mean the retina is tearing.
The retina is at the back of the eye. It receives images and sends them to the brain (just like a camera film). If there is a tear, then fluid can get underneath and the retina can detach. This can result in partial or complete loss of vision.
Detachment of the retina happens more often with middle-aged, short sighted people. It is quite uncommon however, and only around 1 in 10,000 is affected. Very rarely, young people can have a weakness of the retina, or it can be detached as a result of an injury to the head.
- Retinal detachment does not happen as a result of straining your eyes.
- The sooner the retinal tear/detachment is treated the better chance of visual recovery.
- A tear can be treated using a laser, but if your retina has become detached you will need surgery.
If you're experiencing any of these symptoms, please contact your local branch immediately. Outwith opening hours, contact NHS 24 or go to your local Accident and Emergency department if necessary.