In our office we frequently get calls from patients noticing flashing lights or spots or cobwebs in their vision. If you have spots in your eyes, or notices changes to the spots in your eyes, you should have a thorough eye health evaluation.
Imagine the eye as a globe filled with a thick jelly-like fluid. The normal aging process causes the jelly-like fluid (vitreous humor) to liquefy and shrink. As this shrinkage occurs, small strands or spots are formed in the matrix of the fluid causing small shadows to fall across the retina, which are perceived as spots or cobwebs in the vision. The spots generally move as the eye moves and are more noticeable when reading and in bright lighting conditions such as when looking at a blue sky or white wall.
Vitreous shrinkage can lead to part of the vitreous peeling away from the back of the eye, or vitreous detachment. This is not serious and does not lead to permanent vision damage. Treatment is not necessary for vitreous floaters or vitreous detachment. The spots are most noticeable when they are brand new and can be very annoying, but slowly they become less noticeable over time.
Flashing lights can occur in the vision when the vitreous pulls or tugs on the retina. The inside of the eye has no pain receptors, only light receptors, so when the pulling occurs the eye perceives this as a flash of light or lighting streak.
If a headache follows the jagged lines and flashing lights, it is called a migraine. Some patients have the visual symptoms, or aura, but not get the headache that follows. This is a sign of an ophthalmic migraine.
On rare occasions the retina may form a hole or tear and lead to a retinal detachment during the process of vitreous shrinkage. This would lead to a hazy area in the vision and can cause blindness. The doctor will dilate the eyes and do a thorough eye health examination to determine if this is the problem. If a retinal detachment is found, the patient will be referred to a retinal specialist for immediate treatment.
It is important to have your eyes evaluated if you notice any changes in your vision, or notice changes in your current floaters or notice an increase in floaters, flashing lights, or decrease in your vision. Also, having your eyes checked regularly will help the doctor to determine if you are at risk for this or any other medical eye condition.
Author: Dr. Zoey Loomis
Kiowa Eye Care Center
231 Prospect Street, Fort Morgan CO