The retina is the light-sensitive tissue lining the back of our eye. Light rays are focused onto the retina through our cornea, pupil and lens. The retina converts the light rays into impulses that travel through the optic nerve to our brain, where they are interpreted as the images we see. A healthy, intact retina is key to clear vision.
The middle of our eye is filled with a clear gel called vitreous (vi-tree-us) that is attached to the retina. Sometimes tiny clumps of gel or cells inside the vitreous will cast shadows on the retina, and you may sometimes see small dots, specks, strings or clouds moving in your field of vision. These are called floaters. You can often see them when looking at a plain, light background, like a blank wall or blue sky.
As we get older, the vitreous may shrink and pull on the retina. When this happens, you may notice flashing lights, lightning streaks or the sensation of seeing “stars.” These are called flashes.
Usually, the vitreous moves away from the retina without causing problems. But sometimes the vitreous pulls hard enough to tear the retina in one or more places. Such tears can result in retina detachment and loss of vision. If you notice new flashes or floaters it is important that you make an appointment with your eye doctor immediately. Your eye doctor will examine your retina and check for any retina breaks. If retina breaks are present, in office laser treatment can often stabilize them and prevent retina detachment.