What Are Flashes & Floaters?


Floaters, spots, flashes or ‘cobwebs’ are small specks or strands that move through your field of vision.

They are often most visible when looking at a lighter background such as a lightly coloured wall, piece of white paper, a bright sky or a white computer/tablet screen.

Floaters are small clumps of gel or cells that move around in the vitreous, the gel that fills the middle of the eye.

Floaters can be caused by many things:

  • As we age, the vitreous gel in the eye may thicken and shrink, causing little clumps to form.
  • If the vitreous gel pulls away from its attachments to the retina, called a posterior vitreous detachment (PVD), it can clump up and make a larger floater
  • Sometimes tears in the retina can occur, releasing cells into the middle of the eye that appear as many small floaters.
  • Flashes (photopsia) also may occur after a blow to the head, often called “seeing stars.”
  • Inflammation in the eye can cause floaters to appear in the vision.
  • Some people experience flashes of light that appear as jagged lines or “heat waves” in both eyes, often lasting 10-20 minutes. These types of flashes are usually caused by a spasm of blood vessels in the brain, which is called a migraine.

Treatment for Spots and Floaters

Most eye floaters and spots are harmless and merely annoying. Many will fade over time and become less bothersome.

Sometimes people are interested in surgery to remove floaters, but doctors are only willing to perform such surgery in rare instances when vision is seriously hampered.

How Ridings Opticians can help you with Flashes and Floaters

While annoying, ordinary eye floaters and spots are very common and usually aren’t cause for alarm.

However, in about 5% of cases with a PVD a tear in the retina is discovered, showing the need for regular examinations.

If you notice a sudden appearance of increased floaters and/or flashing lights in your eye, you should arrange to see us at Ridings Opticians immediately. We will perform a detailed examination of the retina after inserting dilating drops, you will not be able to drive for at least a few hours after the examination. As your pupil(s) will be dilated it may appear quite bright outside, so on a sunny day it would be wise to bring sunglasses with you. The examination could indicate a retinal tear, a retinal detachment, or another eye problem has occurred that could be a vision-threatening condition.

If we feel that it is necessary we will arrange for you to be seen in the Eye Department at Stepping Hill Hospital for further examination.

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