Floaters may look like specks, strands, webs or other shapes. If a spot or shadowy shape passes in front of your field of vision or to the side, you are seeing a floater. Because they are inside your eye and suspended within the gel-like vitreous, they move with your eyes when you try to see them.
Most spots and floaters in the eye are harmless and merely annoying. Many will fade over time and become less bothersome. In severe cases, people may become interested in a surgical procedure called a vitrectomy to remove the floaters. Although beneficial, this invasive procedure has some risks and most retinal surgeons are usually not willing to perform the procedure unless the floaters disrupt daily activities.
You may also see flashes of light. These flashes usually are caused by mechanical stimulation of retinal cells when the vitreous membrane pulls on the retina. Flashes of light may be a warning sign of a detached retina – a very serious problem that could lead to blindness if not treated quickly.
Some people experience flashes of light that appear as jagged lines or “heat waves” in both eyes, often lasting 10-20 minutes. These types of flashes are usually caused by a spasm of blood vessels in the brain, which is called a migraine. If a headache follows the flashes, it is called a classic migraine headache. However, jagged lines or “heat waves” can occur without a headache. In this case, the light flashes are called an ocular migraine, or a migraine without a headache.
The sudden appearance of a significant number of floaters, especially if they are accompanied by flashes of light or other vision disturbances, could indicate a retinal detachment or other serious problem in the eye. If you suddenly see new floaters associated with fashes of light, visit your eye doctor immediately.