“It is common to experience both floaters and flashes because the vitreous gel degenerates with age.”

Have you ever looked up at the blue sky and seen cobwebs, lines or dots floating in your vision? If your answer is yes, then you should have your eyes checked by your eye specialist as soon as possible. It is likely that what you are seeing are floaters.

“Floaters are tiny clumps of cells inside the vitreous, the gel-like fluid that fills the inside of your eye. While you may get the feeling that these spots or lines are in front of your eyes, in reality, they are actually floating inside it. These clumps cast shadows on the retina – the layer of cells lining the back of the eye that allows you to see – giving you the impression of floating particles in your vision,” says Dr Laurence Lim, Consultant, Vitreo-Retinal Service at the Singapore National Eye Centre.

Sometimes the vitreous gel pulls on the retina and you may see flashing lights or lightning streaks, which are called ‘flashes’. Remember the cartoons in which a character is punched in the eye and he sees stars? Well, that’s the closest description of what a person experiencing flashes may see. It is common to experience both floaters and flashes because the vitreous gel degenerates with age.

These changes in the vitreous gel are usually harmless, and the flashes usually diminish with time although the floaters may remain. However, in some cases, the vitreous gel shrinks and pulls away from the wall of the eye, causing the retina to tear in the process. This, in turn, could lead to bleeding inside the eye and if left untreated, could even lead to retinal detachment and vision loss. If you experience a sudden episode of flashes and floaters, particularly if this is followed by a dark shadow blocking a corner of your vision, consult your eye specialist immediately, advises Dr Lim. Timely treatment with a laser or, in severe cases, surgery, can help to prevent severe vision loss.