Eye floaters are tiny spots, specks, lines or shapes that enter into your field of vision, appearing to float in front of the eye. They may seem like distant objects, but they are actually the shadows of cells and fibers inside the vitreous, or gel-like portion of the eye.

Floaters are most often isolated occurrences that are a perfectly normal part of vision. However, if they become more frequent, and are accompanied by eye flashes – bursts or streaks of light similar to the “stars” you may see after taking a blow to the head – this may be a sign of an impending retinal detachment. This is very serious and should be brought to the attention of an eye care professional.

What Causes Eye Floaters and Eye Flashes?

The vitreous gel thickens and shrinks as we age, sometimes forming tiny clumps in the vitrous. These clumps cast shadows onto the retina, and the resulting forms and shapes are referred to as eye floaters.

Sometimes during the process of the vitreous shrinking, it remains partially attached to the retina, and tugs on it. The resulting movement of the retina’s nerve cells can cause eye flashes. 

Floaters and flashes may also be caused by trauma to the eye, migraine headaches or retinal detachment. Retinal detachment is a serious condition- warning signs include increases in floaters, flashes, shadows in peripheral vision or the appearance of a grey curtain over part of your vision. If you experience any of these warning signs, you should see your eye care professional immediately.  

Symptoms of Eye Floaters and Eye Flashes

Eye Floaters:

  • Visible appearance of black shapes and lines
  • Usually wisp-like shapes that go away almost immediately

Eye Flashes:

  • Visible bursts or streaks of light
  • May be one burst in one area, or several over a wide area

Ophthalmic migraine

If you see a flash that looks like jagged lines or heat waves in one or both eyes it may be caused by a migraine and may last up to 20 minutes.

Treatments for Eye Floaters and Eye Flashes

Most of the time, eye floaters are not a sign of anything harmful, and simply looking up or down can move them out of your field of vision.

However, if they are accompanied by eye flashes, it may be a sign of retinal detachment, a serious condition that can lead to severe vision loss. For this reason, it’s recommended that anyone who experiences eye flashes schedule an exam with their eye care professional immediately.


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