What Are Flashes and Floaters

Learn more about Flashes and Floaters, including The Symptoms, The Causes, and The Treatments.

What Are Flashes and Floaters

Flashes and floaters are a commonly seen when the jelly vitreous at the back of the eyes separates from the retina. This is called posterior vitreous detachment. It is very common and happens to most of us, as we get older. In most patients, posterior vitreous detachment causes no harm to the retina (light sensitive layer at the back of the eyes that we use to see).

Flashes are experienced as the jelly vitreous is trying to come away from the retina and gently pulls on the retina. The gentle tugging of the vitreous over stimulates the receptors in the retina causing us to experience flashes of light. Floaters occur with the aging vitreous jelly; the vitreous structure changes and the vitreous cells clump together. They cast a shadow onto the retina, giving rise to floaters in the vision. We commonly see floaters in our vision and they are often described as hair like, small flies, tadpoles, dots and spider like. Floaters are usually seen as black, grey or see through in appearance.

If you experience a sudden onset of flashing lights and floaters, we advise you have your eyes checked by your optician.

Flashes and Floaters - Symptoms

• Flashes – bright flash of light in the peripheral vision, usually bright white in colour and seen more in dark surroundings. Patients describe it as a camera flash or a strike of lightning. Each flash usually occurs for a few seconds.

• Floaters- black, grey or see through. Floaters can appear to the patient as Dots, rings, hairs, tadpoles, flies etc. that float across the vision when looking at plain or uniform background

If you experience any of the following; floaters or flashes that appear suddenly or increase in number, black shadows or a curtain in your vision, loss of vision, sudden increase of floaters after surgery, eye pain, blurred vision, they should be investigated by your optician or the local eye hospital immediately.

Flashes and Floaters - Causes

• Posterior vitreous detachment, where the jelly-like vitreous comes away from the retina. This is usually harmless and occurs to most of us, as we get older.

However if the jelly vitreous pulls very hard on the retina as it is trying to come away it can cause a retinal detachment. Retinal detachment is where the retina comes away.  This causes the patient to experience one or more of the following: sudden new influx of floaters, increased number of flashing lights and large black shadow(s) in their vision. If a patient experiences a retinal detachment or suspects one they should attend their nearest eye hospital immediately.

Flashes and Floaters - Treatments

Patients with longstanding flashing and floaters usually do not require treatment (unless there is a retinal detachment involved or a change in the flashing lights and/or floaters). It is always advised that patients have their eyes checked on a regular basis, especially if they experience any new floaters and/or flashes of light.

Large floaters may break down in smaller pieces with time. Your brain will also get used to the floaters and learn to ignore them, making them less visible to you. Any changes to the shape, number, colour and size of your floaters should be investigated promptly.

Patients tend to get used to longstanding flashes of lights too, however any changes to the frequency and number or flashing lights should be investigated promptly.

If you experience any of the following; floaters or flashes that appear suddenly or increase in number, black shadows or a curtain in your vision, loss of vision, sudden increase of floaters after surgery, eye pain, blurred vision, they should be investigated by your optician or the local eye hospital as immediately.

Bhavita Magudia
Flashes and Floaters - Explained
February 21, 2019

The information below is not intended for self diagnose of an eye condition. If you are worried or suffering from an eye problem, please call us on 0208 524 2887 and book in to see us.

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