Floaters and Flashes


What Are Floaters and Flashes?

You may sometimes see small spots, "globs", or clouds "floating" in your field of vision.  These are called floaters, which are actually tiny clumps of cells or material in the clear, gel-like fluid that fills your eye (vitreous).  Floaters can appear in different sizes and in different shapes, such as dots, lines, clouds, webs, or lines.

As we age, the vitreous gel changes, gradually pulling away from the inside surface of the eye. This phenomenon is known as a posterior vitreous detachment (PVD). When the vitreous gel tugs on the retina, you may see what looks like lightning streaks or flashes. These can appear intermittently over weeks or months.

Floaters and Flashes Symptoms

Symptoms of vitreous floaters include seeing specks or clouds moving in your field of vision, or seeing cobwebs, circles, lines, or dots.  Flashes symptoms include seeing "lightning streaks" or "stars".

As the vitreous gel shrinks and pulls away from the retina, it may cause a retinal tear.  This sometimes causes bleeding inside the eye that appears as new floaters.  A tear in the retina can lead to a retinal detachment, which can cause visual loss if not treated.  You should notify your eye physician immediately if you suddenly see flashes of light and new floaters or a change in the size and/or amount of floaters.

Treatment for Floaters and Flashes

There is not a treatment to prevent or eliminate floaters and flashes, and they typically become less noticeable over time.  However, if you experience floaters and flashes, you should have an exam with your eye physician to determine if a retinal tear is present.  A retinal tear can be treated with laser or surgery.  

Ophthalmic Migraine

Some people experience flashes of light that appear as "heat waves" or jagged lines, lasting anywhere from a few minutes to an hour.  This phenomenon is usually caused by a spasm of blood vessels in the brain, called a migraine.  If a headache accompanies or follows the visual symptoms, it is called a classic migraine or migraine headache.  However, the visual symptoms may occur without a headache.  This is known as an ophthalmic migraine or migraine variant.  The symptoms are usually relieved by OTC or prescription migraine medication.  If you experience these symptoms frequently, contact your primary care physician for migraine prevention and treatment options.


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