What are Floaters and Flashes?

Vitreous Floaters and Flashes.

Floaters look like small specks of dust, dots, circles, lines or cobwebs in your field of vision. While they seem to be like flies or mosquitos in front of your eye, they are actually debris from the vitreous gel floating inside. The clumps of debris cast a shadow on your retina resulting in floaters.

Flashes look like flashing lights, stars, or streaks of lightning in your field of vision. Flashes can occur on and off for weeks, or even months. Flashes happen when the vitreous rubs or pulls on your retina.

As people age, it is common to see flashes occasionally.

Normal Vision

Clear visual acuity.
vision with floaters

Vision with Floaters

Floaters are small, dark, shadowy shapes that can look like spots, thread-like strands, or squiggly lines.

Vision with Flashes

Have you ever been hit in the eye and seen stars? The sensation is similar, flashes of light can appear off and on for several weeks or months.

Vitreous Floaters

Floaters are usually most noticeable when looking at something plain, like a blank wall, blue sky, or computer screen.

With increasing age, our vitreous gel liquefies and shrinks, often forming clumps or strands in the vitreous. When the vitreous gel pulls away from the back surface of the eye, it is called posterior vitreous detachment. Floaters often accompany a posterior vitreous detachment.

Floaters themselves are not serious, and tend to fade over time and most of the time our brain gets used to them. They seldom need treatment or surgery. However, floaters can be an accompanying symptom of a vitreous detachment, retinal tear, or retinal detachment.

Floaters are more common with several eye conditions:

  • Being myopic or nearsighted (you need glasses to see far away).

  • After cataract surgery.

  • Previous inflammation (uveitis) inside the eye.

When Floaters and Flashes are Serious

The majority of the time, floaters do not cause a problem.

However, they can sometimes be a sign of a serious condition, especially if they are new or more frequent.

The following features are concerning and warrant an exam with an ophthalmologist:

  • New floaters.

  • New or more frequent flashes.

  • A shadow or grey curtain in shadow your peripheral (side) vision.

Flashes and floaters can be symptoms of a retinal tear or retinal detachment. These conditions can be serious and warrant immediate evaluation.

Flashes and Migraines

Flashes can sometimes be associated with migraine headaches.

These flashes tend to appear different from typical flashes.

They tend to look like jagged lines or heat waves.

Flashes can last for longer times and may be caused by a migraine. A migraine is a type of headache caused by a blood vessel spasm in the brain.

Occasionally, the flashes are not accompanied by a typical headache. This is called aura, ophthalmic migraine, or migraine without headache.

Floaters are dark spots or dots

in your field of vision.

They tend to move and float around as you move your eye.

Floaters are caused by the shadow of clumps of vitreous gel in your eye. Flashes look like lightning streaks in your field of vision and occur when the vitreous gel pulls on the retina.

Floaters and flashes are extremely common with increasing age. However, sometimes these symptoms can be associated with serious conditions such as a retinal detachment or retinal tear.

Sudden onset of new or increased floaters or flashes require a call to your ophthalmologist right away.