The retina is the light-sensitive film-like 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 inside of our eye is filled with a clear gel called vitreous 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.
As we get older, the vitreous may shrink and pull on the retina. When this happens, you may notice what look like flashing lights, lightning streaks or the sensation of seeing “stars.” These are called flashes. If the retina has weak spots, the vitreous gel may exert enough traction on the retina causing a tear. If fluid gets underneath the retina through the tear, it may cause the retina to detach from the back wall of the eye. This constitutes a true emergency and you must see your eye doctor immediately. If the detachment is not repaired, inevitably it will lead to blindness. Fortunately, with advanced surgical techniques and timely intervention, retinal tears and detachment can be repaired with good visual outcome.