Complaints of seeing spots, dots, or wavy lines in front of the eyes are very common and these are referred to as floaters. Although most commonly occurring in middle age, they can affect anyone and are more noticeable in people who are myopic, have undergone cataract surgery or other inflammatory conditions of the eye.
Seeing lightning streaks or pinpoint bursts of light, even in a darkened room or with eyes closed is another common complaint, referred to as flashes. These also occur more frequently after middle age but may also be associated with migraines, head trauma and blood vessel spasms in the brain.
Floaters are actually tiny clumps of gel or semi-transparent matter that drift freely inside the vitreous, the clear, jelly-like fluid that fills the inside of the eye.
In middle age, degeneration and shrinkage of the vitreous occurs, resulting in the formation of crystal-like clumps or strands.
In childhood and early adulthood, particles from blood vessels, proteins and pigments formed during development of the eye may also remain suspended in the vitreous fluid.
All these then float across the line of sight and appear as specks in front of the eye.
Flashes are false bursts of light produced by the optic nerves of the retina, the light-sensitive area at the back of the eye.
This results when the vitreous thickens, pulls away from and rubs against the retina, in the normal ageing process.
Floaters and flashes are usually benign and fade away over time. They are generally more bothersome rather than harmful and simple measures like moving your eyes from side to side or up and down can help to stir the vitreous fluid and move the floaters away from the line of sight.
There is no safe,effective or reliable treatment to prevent or eliminate floaters and flashes.
However, any sudden increase in the number of floaters or flashes which last more than 20 minutes or is accompanied by visual loss should be promptly evaluated by an eye doctor to exclude a retinal tear or detachment.