Seeing Flashes of Light and/or new Floaters

Seeing flashes of light or new floaters in the vision are symptoms caused by the vitreous humour and retina. The information below will help you to understand what is occurring and what treatment is required.

What is the retina and vitreous humor?

The retina is the camera film that lines the back of the eye. It is comprised of millions of nerve cells and it is just 0.2mm thick. The cavity immediately in front of the retina is filled with a transparent, jelly-like substance called vitreous humor.

At birth, the vitreous humor is attached to the retina, like Blu-Tac attached to wallpaper. Throughout life, the vitreous degenerates into a watery state and sags with gravity. This causes it to gradually peel away from the retina. This process is called a “posterior vitreous detachment” and it is a normal ageing change. It typically occurs after age 50 years. As the vitreous detaches, small opacities within it cast shadows onto the retina, which we see as ”floaters”.

If you suffer from vitreous floaters, then you can consider having these floaters removed with a procedure called “YAG laser vitreolysis”. This is a non-invasive procedure that permanently erases floaters using laser energy.

How do retinal tears and retinal detachments occur?

As the vitreous sags with gravity, it tugs on the retina. This traction stimulates the retina, which we see as a flash of light.

If the retina is abnormally brittle, or if the vitreous is abnormally adherent, then a retinal tear can occur. Fluid seeps into this tear and peels off the adjacent retina. Eventually, the retina begins to fall off the back of the eye. This is called a retinal detachment. Retinal detachments are very serious because detached retinal cells quickly die. Emergency eye surgery is required to return the retina to its anatomic position. Despite surgery, vision is often permanently reduced.

What are the risk factors for suffering a retinal tear?

Retinal tears occur through no fault of your own. Risk factors include:

  • Near-sightedness (myopia)
  • A family history of retinal detachment
  • An abnormally brittle retina (called retinal lattice degeneration)
  • Abnormally strong vitreous adhesions to the retina

What is retinal laser?

Retinal laser is the treatment for preventing a retinal tear from progressing to a retinal detachment. A thermal laser is used to form a confluent row of tiny burns surrounding the retinal tear. Over the following 48 hours, a strong, watertight seal forms. Each burn is just 250um in diameter (one-quarter of a millimetre), but the protection lasts a lifetime. The medical name for the procedure is “barrier laser retinopexy”.

Note, there are many different lasers used in ophthalmology. Laser retinopexy will not change your vision or your need for glasses.

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What do i need to know about having barrier laser retinopexy?

Performed in the clinic

You will be seated in a chair in front of the laser. The procedure takes approximately 5 minutes. Since your pupil will be dilated, you are advised not to drive for at least 90 minutes.

Moderate discomfort

With each laser application you will feel an aching sensation at the back of your eye. The surface of your eye will be numbed with anaesthetic eye drops. You are welcome to take paracetamol, although this is rarely needed.

No post-operative requirements

After the laser, you can do all normal activities including exercise, swimming, and flying in an aeroplane. There are no restrictions. No prescription eyedrops or medications are required.

What are the risks of retinal laser?

Failure to prevent a retinal detachment.

It takes approximately 48 hours for the laser burns to form a strong, watertight seal. If your retina is going to detach during this time period then nothing can be done to prevent it. For this reason, it is important to perform retinal laser as soon as a retinal tear is identified. A retinal detachment appears like a grey curtain slowly closing across your vision.

Small blind spot in the vision.

Immediately following the laser you may be able to perceive a small shadow in the far peripheral vision of your treated eye. This is an unavoidable by-product of successful retinal laser. The shadow recedes over two weeks and is not bothersome. If the laser were to somehow misfire, then it is theoretically possible that a tiny blind spot could appear in your central vision. This is exquisitely rare.

Vitreolysis floaters nick andrew opthalmologist eye surgeon sight specialists southport gold coast cataract surgery

Monday to Friday: 8am – 4.30pm

Dr Nick Andrew

Ophthalmologist and Eye Surgeon Gold Coast

Sight Specialists, Level 2, 95 Nerang St, Southport QLD 4215

Medical disclaimer

The content provided on this website is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician.

All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions.

Neither Dr. Andrew nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content.