Flashes and Floaters

Flashes and floaters are common eye symptoms. In most cases, they do not cause any serious eye issues. Both floaters and flashes can be common as we age and the vitreous gel changes. There are also times when it can be a sign of a retinal issues such as a posterior vitreous detachment, retinal tear or detachment or vitreous hemorrhage.  

Floaters look like spots, strings, cobwebs, pepper flakes, circles, lines, or any irregular shape that you can see in your vision. Although they seem in front of you, they are inside your eye. They are made up of the vitreous gel as the cells change consistency over time, and clump together. Those pieces of gel cast a shadow on the retina and that creates the shapes you perceive. You may notice floaters more against snowy white backgrounds or bright blue skies due to increased contrast. They tend to move or float around in vision, hence the term floaters. In most instances, floaters stay in your eye but will fade from your view as time goes on. In severe cases, floaters can interfere with daily life and patients may elect for vitrectomy surgery. You are more likely to get floaters if you: 

  • Are nearsighted 
  • Over 50 years of age 
  • Have had cataract surgery 
  • Are diabetic 
  • Have had inflammation inside the eye (uveitis) 

Flashes are caused by the vitreous tugging on the retina and the brain interprets this traction as flashes of light. Flashes can look like quick pin point dots of light, flickering lights, arcs, or lightning strikes, or arcs in vision and are easier to notice in darker settings.  

Sometimes people have light flashes that look like jagged lines or heat waves that appear in one or both eyes and may last up to 20 minutes. This type of flash may be caused by an ocular migraine. When you get a headache after these flashes, it is called a “migraine headache.” But sometimes you only see the light flash without having a headache. This is called an “ophthalmic migraine” or “migraine without headache.” 

In most cases, floaters and flashes do not cause any problem. However, they can be signs of a serious problem like a torn or detached retina so it’s important to have a dilated eye exam if you have symptoms such as: 

  • A significant number of new floaters 
  • New flashing lights in the same eye as the floaters 
  • A shadow or curtain blocking vision 

Call us at (616) 954-2020 to schedule an appointment.