Floaters and Lightning Flashes

By: Web Editor On: Sep 18, 2020

Floater and lightning flashes are due to ageing changes in the vitreous gel of the eye. The transparent gel of the eye occupies the space in the middle of the eyeball, and is adherent to the surface of the retina (nerve layer) of the eye.

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Floaters look like flies, spider webs, wavy lines or shapes that float in and out of the visual field with eye movements. They are not uncommon after the age of 40 years, as the vitreous gel starts to degenerate. Younger individuals, especially those who are short-sighted, may also develop floaters if their vitreous gel starts degenerating earlier. 

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Floaters may be more obvious in certain lighting conditions or when looking at a light colored background.

Lightning flashes often accompany floaters. This is because during the process of vitreous gel degeneration, the sticky gel shrinks and peels away from the surface of the retina. Areas that do not peel off easily may pull on the retina and give rise to lightning flashes. 

Floaters and lightning flashes are often seen during the natural ageing process. They are often benign and do not require treatment. Floaters become less obvious with time as the brain learns to ignore them; lightning flashes will stop once the gel separates from the retina.

Unfortunately, rapid or abnormal gel degeneration may sometimes result in retinal tears which can lead to retinal detachments. Therefore, even though floaters and lightning flashes are usually harmless, they should be taken seriously as they may indicate a potentially serious condition.  

FAQs about floaters and lightning flashes

1. I had a sudden increase in floaters and lightning flashes. How long can I wait before I see an eye doctor?

A sudden increase in floaters and lightning flashes is highly suspicious of a retinal tear. Once a retinal tears occurs, a retinal detachment can develop in a short time. The speed of detachment will depend on the size of the tear is and how degenerated the gel is. It is advisable to see an eye doctor as soon as possible, preferable within a day.

2. The floaters are very irritating. Why are you not recommending active treatment?

If an eye examination has confirmed that the floaters are not associated with any serious eye condition, active treatment is usually not needed as floaters will appear less obvious with time. There are no eye drops and oral medication for the treatment of floaters. Surgery to remove the gel of the eye (vitrectomy) can effectively remove the floaters. However, this is not usually recommended as surgery comes with some risks.

3. Can food and vitamin supplements or a change in daily activities help in treating floaters?

There are no proven food or vitamin supplements as floaters are the result of natural gel degeneration. There is also no evidence that daily activities like reading and watching TV cause floaters. They usually become less obvious with time as the brain learns to ignore them; sometimes, floaters may move outside of the central vision area and become less obvious with time.

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