Retinal Tears, Flashes, and Floaters

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The retina is the thin, photo-sensitive layer that is responsible for our sight. The retina can tear, creating a risk for a retinal detachment and with it, severe vision loss. A tear in the retina can potentially allow fluid to flow through the hole, getting beneath the retina and lifting the retina off the back of the eye. Because of this, you should be aware of the symptoms of a retinal tear so that you may be examined before it could potentially lead to further complications. 

  • Floaters – the sudden appearance of tiny black spots appearing like specks of pepper, strings, circles, blobs, or any irregular shape. They are made up of clumps of gel or cells casting a shadow onto the retina. They tend to move or float around in vision, hence the term floaters. They appear most often on bright, sunny days or against a stark, white background. 
  • Flashes – lighting streaks, seeing stars, or bright camera flashes are another symptom of a torn retina. When there is traction on the the retina, signals are sent to the brain that light is being seen. Be aware if you are seeing persistent flashes that don’t correspond to any external source. 

A Posterior Vitreous Detachment is the most common cause of a tear. A normal aging process that occurs inside the eye in those 50 and older, where the gel-like filling inside the eye pulls away from the surface of the retina. However, sometimes the gel is unusually stuck to the retina and can create a tear. Eye trauma, age, family history, nearsightedness, or thinner areas of the retina called lattice degeneration can also be a risk factor.  

If a retinal tear is diagnosed promptly, and treatment can be administered before it progresses to a retinal detachment, the prognosis is very good. Treating a retinal tear can be done in office and you can go home the same day. The goal in treating a tear or hole is to create a barrier or weld made of scar tissue to surround the hole and prevent fluid from getting through and causing a detachment. One remedy is laser retinopexy in which a beam of light is used through a special lens to seal the tear in the retina. Another form of treatment is cryotherapy where a probe is used directly behind the eye to apply cold to freeze the tear. Neither of these treatments are painful. 

You should call us right away if you ever notice new floaters, sudden flashes of light, or a curtain coming across your field of vision. We understand that this can be a scary time and always recommend you call our office at (616) 954-2020 if you are questioning your symptoms or have questions about treatment.