Flashes and Floaters

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Flashes and Floaters

What are Flashes and Floaters?

Flashes are brief spots of light that occur in your visual field. They may be described as “stars” if you hit your head or arise too quickly from a prone position. People have described them as lightning strikes in their peripheral field of vision. 

Floaters are typically seen as small circles, dots, lines or web-like strings that seem to drift across your vision. They are microscopic clumps of cells inside the vitreous, the gel-like fluid that fills the inside of your eye. Floaters can appear to float in front of your eyes and are more apparent when you’re looking at a white background. 

Causes of Flashes

Flashes of light can be caused by physical force on the retina, for example when you rub your eyes too hard or strike your head. They are frequently related to changes in the vitreous which fill the center eye cavity. As we age, the vitreous shrinks and may pull on the retina. The retina is the light-sensitive tissue lining the back of your eye. The tugging releases brief flashes of light then fade rapidly. 

When an increase in flashes accompanied by a surge of floaters or dark spots cross your vision, this may indicate a retinal tear or detachment. 

Causes of Floaters

Floaters are often related to the natural aging process. As we age, the vitreous fluid can start to liquify and shrink away from the back wall of the eye. When this process begins, tiny clumps of cells within the vitreous gel may become more noticeable. Abnormal bleeding caused by changes associated with diabetic retinopathy, blocked blood vessels, high blood pressure or injury as well as retinal tears and detachments may also cause floaters. 

Vitreous floaters example. Squiggly lines on a blue background

Diagnosing Flashes and Floaters

Diagnosing the cause of flashing lights or new floaters requires a dilated exam and evaluation by our specialists. Your diagnosis will be discussed with you in detail along with any treatments if recommended. 

Treating Flashes and Floaters

Treatment for flashes or floaters depends on the underlying cause. It is very important to contact our office if you are experiencing flashes or floaters. 

Sources: American Academy of Ophthalmology, Medline Plus, National Eye Institute, and Krames

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