What Does it Mean to See Floaters and Flashes?

Aug 22, 2022 | Vision

People can develop “floaters” in their field of vision, see flashes of light, or both at the same time. What is normal, and when should you be concerned if you are seeing floaters or flashes?

What is a floater?

Floaters are spots, squiggly lines, or strings in your vision. They move when you move your eyes and can drift away if you try to look directly at them.

The eyes contain vitreous, which is a jelly-like substance composed of proteins. Over time, strands of vitreous can start to clump together and cast shadows on your retina, the light-sensitive layer of tissue at the back of your eye. Those shadows are floaters. You may notice floaters more when looking at a blue sky or a white surface.

The most common reason for floaters is aging. Other reasons people develop floaters include being very nearsighted, having diabetes, or having had cataract surgery. Sometimes, though, more serious conditions cause eye floaters, including eye infections or injuries, inflammation in the eye, bleeding in the eye, retinal tears, or retinal detachment.

If you experience a sudden increase in the number of eye floaters along with flashing lights, or you see a dark curtain or blurry area in your side or central vision, contact an eye doctor or visit the emergency room immediately as these are signs of a retinal tear or detachment which is a medical emergency.

Why am I seeing flashing lights?

Flashes of light in your field of vision can look like little pinpricks of light, shooting stars, or lightning streaks. Like floaters, seeing flashing lights can occasionally happen as we age.

Most of the time, flashing lights is caused by the vitreous inside the eye suddenly shrinking or changing, such as when you rub your eyes too hard or when you’re hit on the eye. These flashes of light usually appear and disappear very quickly.

Other times, bright spots or patches can remain in the field of vision due to having a migraine. Seeing halos of light around streetlights or headlights can be a symptom of cataracts or after going through a refractive eye surgery.

If you are seeing flashes of lights along with cloudiness or dark spots in your vision, have a sudden increase in flashing lights along with eye floaters, or have sustained an eye injury and are seeing flashing lights, contact an eye doctor or visit the emergency room. Seeing new flashes of light and floaters is a sign of a retinal tear or detachment, which is a medical emergency.

Schedule an Eye Exam at Decatur Family Eye Care

The doctors at Decatur Family Eye Care in Decatur, AL will consult with you about flashes and floaters, and they have the expertise and technology to provide quality comprehensive eye exams. If you are concerned about seeing floaters or seeing occasional flashes of light, as your doctor at your next eye exam.