Retinal Tears and Detachments
In some cases, floaters and flashes can indicate that the retina has torn or detached from its rightful position along the back of the eye. This often occurs when the vitreous gel inside the eye recedes from the retina. As the vitreous pulls away, it can tug at the retina and lead to a retinal tear. Left untreated, retinal tears can cause a full retinal detachment, which is a serious medical emergency where the retina detaches from its normal position lining the back of the eye.
Retinal tears and detachments are physically painless but can cause a sudden flurry of floaters or flashes of light. Other symptoms include blurred vision, distortions, and reduced visual acuity. When caught early on, retinal tears and detachments can often be successfully repaired without causing permanent vision loss. Common treatment options include:
- Laser therapy, in which a laser is used to seal the torn edges of the retina to the surrounding tissue
- Cryotherapy, in which a freezing probe is placed over a retinal tear to create scar tissue that holds the retina in place
- Pneumatic retinopexy, which uses a gas bubble injected directly into the eye to push the retina back against the back of the eye
- Scleral buckle, which uses a silicone band wrapped around the white part of the eye to secure the retina in its proper position
- Vitrectomy, in which the vitreous gel is removed from the eye so that the retinal tear or detachment can be repaired
Retinal detachments can cause permanent vision loss so it’s important to seek immediate medical attention if you experience a sudden onslaught of floaters and/or flashes. Patients should note that PVD symptoms closely mirror retinal tear symptoms, so any sudden flashes or floaters should be evaluated by a doctor immediately.