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Retinal Detachment:   A retinal detachment is a serious condition that can result in permanent vision loss. It is often preceded by minimal symptoms such as flashes and floaters.  To better understand these symptoms, a movie (courtesy of the AAO) about flashes and floaters is shown below.  Additional information about the symptoms and treatment options are also given below

So, you want more details!... I have attached a complete actual movie, with all the graphic details on how a buckle procedure is performed.  Just click here

So you have flashes and floaters?

If you are reading this webpage, you likely have flashes and floaters, and have already undergone a full ocular examination.  The information provided will review the condition as well as provide symptoms of a retinal tear and/or detachment. 

Small specks or clouds moving in your field of vision are called floaters.  You can often see them when looking at a plain background, like a blank wall or blue sky.  Floaters are actually tiny clumps of gel or cells inside the vitreous, the clear jelly-like fluid that fills the inside of your eye. 

While these objects look like they are in front of your eye, they are actually floating inside.  What you see are the shadows they cast on the retina the nerve layer at the back of the eye that senses light and allows you to see.  Floaters can have different shapes: little dots, circles, lines, chains, clouds or cobwebs. 

What causes floaters?

When people rich middle age, the vitreous gel starts to shrink, forming clumps and strands inside the eye.  The vitreous gel pulls away from the back wall of the eye, causing a breakdown of the jelly in the eye.  This condition, by itself is not harmful and is a normal part of aging.  The clumped gel is the most common cause of floaters.  While age is the most common reason for the vitreous gel to breakdown, the following are other possible reasons for floaters:

-are nearsighted;

-have undergone cataract operations;

-have had YAG laser surgery of the eye (after cataract surgery)

-have had inflammation inside the eye (uveitis)

Are floaters ever serious?

The retina can sometimes tear when shrinking vitreous gel pulls away from the back wall of the eye.  This often causes a small amount of bleeding in the eye that may appear as new floaters.  A torn retina is always a serious problem, since it can lead to a retinal detachment and blindness.  Thus, you should see your ophthalmologist as soon as possible if:

-A large clump of floaters (that are too many to count) appear suddenly

-You see sudden flashes, or arcs of light that you have not seen previously

If you notice other symptoms, like the loss of side vision, it may indicate the development of a retinal detachment.  You should return for reevaluation in this case.

What can be done about floaters?

Floaters can get in the way of clear vision, which may be quite annoying, especially if you are trying to read.  You can try moving your eyes, looking up and then down to move the floaters out of the way.  While some floaters remain in your vision, many of them will fade over time and become les bothersome.  Even if you have had some floaters for years, you should have an eye examination promptly if you notice new ones. 

What causes flashing lights?

You may have experienced this same sensation if you have ever been hit in the eye and seen “stars.”  When the vitreous shrinks, it tugs on the retina, creating a sensation of flashing lights.  The flashes of light can appear off and on for several weeks or months.  As we grow older, it is more common to experience flashes.  If you notice the sudden appearance of light flashes, you should visit your ophthalmologist promptly to see if the retina has been torn.  The retina is not able to transmit a sensation of tugging; thus, any tugging of the retina is generally left to be a flash. 


Some people experience flashes of light that appear as jagged lines or “heat waves” in both eyes, often lasting 10-20 minutes.  These types of flashes are usually caused by a spasm of blood vessels in the brain, which is called migraine.  If a headache follows the flashes, it is called a migraine headache.  However, jagged lines or “heat waves” can occur without a headache.  In this case, the light flashes are called ophthalmic migraine, or migraine without headache. 

How are your eyes examined?

When an ophthalmologist examines your eyes, your pupils will be dilated with eye drops.  During this painless examination, your ophthalmologist will carefully observe your retina and vitreous.  Because your eyes have been dilated, you may need to make arrangements for someone to drive you home afterwards.  Floaters and flashes of light become more common as we grow older.  While not all floaters and flashes are serious, you should always have a medical eye examination by an ophthalmologist to make sure there has been no damage to your retina.