Asudden change in your vision is something we, as eye care specialists at the Florida Retina Institute, always want to know about. This is especially true when someone experiences a sudden onset of new floaters in the vision. Along with flashing lights or seeing a shadow in the field of vision, these constellation of symptoms can point towards a serious, sight-threatening condition that requires urgent attention.
Most people starting in their 20s and 30s experience hair-like floaters which represent the natural, age-related liquefaction of the vitreous gel, located in the center of the eye. The vitreous gel holds tightly to the surface of the retina that lines the back wall of the eye. The retina allows us to see; it is the photographic film of the camera that is your eye. With the passage of time, the vitreous gel continues to liquefy until it peels from the surface of the retina leading to a “Posterior Vitreous Detachment.” This is typically perceived as a single, round floater coming in and out of the vision. In 90% of cases, this single floater can be of little consequence.
Yet, in 10% of cases, a sudden onset of this floater (and especially numerous floaters) can be a sign of a more serious, potentially blinding condition. As the vitreous gel peels from the surface of the retina, it may tear the retina (causing numerous floaters) or tug on the retina (causing the perception of flashing lights). Fluid from the inside cavity of the eye passes through a retinal tear leading to fluid accumulation under the retina.
This causes the retina to fall off the back wall of the eye leading to a “Retinal Detachment.” This is perceived as a persistent shadow in the field of vision which may progress to blindness without surgical management. Those at greatest risk for a retinal tear or detachment are above 50 years old, near-sighted, suffered eye trauma, have undergone cataract surgery, and have a family history of retinal detachment.
A sudden onset of new floaters, flashing/streaking lights, or a shadow in the visual field should prompt an evaluation with your eye care specialist within 1 to 2 days. During your examination, your eye doctor will dilate the pupils and carefully look for a tear or detachment of the retina.
Retinal tears can often be treated with an office-based procedure by the retina specialist. The goal of treatment is to seal the tear before it leads to a retinal detachment. If there is a retinal detachment, this will typically require surgery in an operating room setting. We routinely ask our patients to call in right away with symptoms – timely evaluation and treatment may spare them a trip to the operating room and prevent vision loss.
A sudden onset of new or numerous floaters, flashing lights, or a shadow in the visual field require prompt evaluation. Your vision is precious. Don’t hesitate to call your eye doctor; we want to help.
The Florida Retina Institute is located at 1100 Plantation Island Drive, Suite 130. Visit them online at www.floridaretinainstitute.com. Written by Abdallah Jeroudi, M.D. Photography by Kate Gardiner.