www. Char l es tonPhys i c i ans . com | www.Hea l thL i nksChar l es ton . com | 19 That doesn’t mean, however, that you should ignore them. “They can be serious. The symptoms of a retinal tear or detachment can be a new floater,” Dr. Nelson said. “The best thing to do is to let an eye doctor look at it and make sure the retina is safe. If there is damage, it is usually permanent or semipermanent. If there’s a tear, the cells die and don’t come back.” “A retinal tear can be fixed with a laser, but a full-blown detachment is pretty invasive surgery,” he added. “Whenever you see flashes and new floaters, make sure a doctor looks at you within 24 hours. If you have lots and lots of floaters and flashes, it’s a sign that something has happened to the retina.” Flashes, which might look like lightning streaks originating somewhere near your eye, eventually subside but also can be a sign that something is seriously amiss. Dr. Bodkin said they can be caused by any type of tugging on the retina, adding that they also might be a result of your brain “thinking something is happening.” “Flashes can be brain-related. It’s usually some sort of trauma to the head that causes neurons to fire and confuses your brain,” he commented. According to Dr. Bodkin, standard procedure when a patient complains of floaters or flashes is to dilate the eye so it can be examined directly. He said imaging also is helpful to confirm or document his findings. Dr. Nelson pointed out that floaters are usually part of the aging process. He said at the age of 50, you have a 50% chance of having to deal with them, with your odds of having them increasing by 10% every decade. “It’s a symptom of having more candles on your birthday cake,” he said. Though Dr. Bodkin agreed that candles and floaters are closely related, he added that floaters can occur at any age and can be caused by any type of trauma to the head, “from violent vibrations to anything that jostles the eye.” Both optometrists agreed that it’s vitally important to visit an eye-care specialist as soon as possible after you notice floaters or flashes. Your ability to use your eyes to interact with the world might depend on it.