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Say 'Aaah' | StayWell

Now You See It . . .

April 12, 1999|BARBARA J. CHUCK

Flashes and floaters--along with graying hair and that all-over soreness after a weekend softball game--are more of nature's ways of reminding us that we're aging.

While everyone sees flashes--of light, stars or streaks--from time to time, their frequency increases as we get older. They are more common in people who are nearsighted. Flashes, usually seen in one eye at a time, often are caused by the vitreous (the gel that fills the inside of the eye) pulling on the retina (a membrane that lines the inside of the eye).

Flashes can sometimes signal other eye problems. When the vitreous pulls too hard on the retina, it can make the retina tear or detach from the back of the eye, and rapid vision loss can result.

Unlike flashes, floaters look like dark specks, clouds, threads or spider webs moving through a person's vision. Most people see floaters--small pieces of vitreous gel or other material that float inside the eye--only once in a while. They can also be caused by an eye injury or surgery.

Flashes and floaters are usually harmless. Getting regular eye exams will help protect and preserve your vision.

So when is it time to ring up your eye doctor? If floaters appear suddenly or greatly increase in number, they may be a sign of an eye problem, such as a tear in the retina. Over time, a tear can cause a detached retina.

In addition to suddenly seeing flashes or floaters or a sudden increase in their number, the following are symptoms for which you should seek guidance:

* You've seen flashes or floaters for a while, but now they look different than they used to.

* They make it difficult to perform normal tasks.

Source: StayWell Co.

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