Sometimes your eyes do something strange; they show you a mysterious shape in your peripheral vision or a flash of light that wasn’t really there. It doesn’t last long, and you eventually shrug your shoulders and go on with your day. But that nagging question stays with you. “What was that? And should I be worried about it?”
Occasionally, you’ll see shapes floating around in your field of vision. You can’t look directly at them, but they’re there. The shape could look like a squiggly line, a doughnut, or just a small, nondescript clump. These shapes are what we call floaters, and for the most part, they’re nothing to worry about.
The substance that fills the inside of your eye is called the vitreous. When you’re born, the vitreous is a thick, jelly-like consistency. But as you get older, the vitreous slowly dissolves into a more liquid substance.
The dissolution process isn’t always even, meaning some pieces of the more solid jelly-like vitreous continue to float around in the liquid. These undissolved vitreous pieces are the shapes you see floating in your field of vision.
While some floaters are normal, many are not. Any time you notice a sudden influx of floaters, it may be a sign of a bigger problem. When you’re experiencing what looks like a downward shower of floaters in conjunction with repetitive flashes, you need to seek medical attention immediately, as you could be suffering from a retinal detachment.
The retina is responsible for sending messages to the brain. When light hits it, it stimulates the retina to send an electrical impulse through the optic nerve to the brain, where it is then interpreted as an image.
Your retina happens to be very sensitive, so anytime it’s touched, tugged, or jostled, it’s also stimulated; sending a spastic electrical impulse through the optic nerve where the brain interprets it as a flash of light. This often happens after a fall, during a sudden jerky movement, or a blow to a head. In fact: when cartoon characters “see stars” after a blow to the head, that’s simply an animated version of your retina’s reaction to the impact.
Since these flashes are usually caused by blunt force or jarring motion, they’re never a particularly good thing. However, if you experience a flash after slipping and falling on ice, but you didn’t hit your head, it’s probably no cause for alarm. If you do hit your head, you should seek medical attention regardless of how you feel. Head injuries should always be taken seriously.
If you start experiencing waves of flashes, particularly in conjunction with what appears to be a downward shower of floaters, you need to get medical care right away as you may be suffering from retinal detachment. In order to save your vision, your retina must be reattached immediately.
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