What Are Eye Flashes and Floaters?

Floaters and flashes are common visual phenomena experienced by many people. While these occurrences are usually benign, they can sometimes signal an issue with the eye. That is especially true if they suddenly appear or increase in frequency.


What Are Floaters?

Floaters are tiny, cobweb-like, or protein specks that move across the line of sight. They are typically harmless and stem from small debris particles in the vitreous humor. That is the clear, stable gel-like substance that fills the back two-thirds of the eye and helps transmit light. They are most visible against a plain, bright background like a white wall or clear blue sky.

When a floater moves, it casts a shadow on the retina. This light-sensitive layer at the back of the eye captures images and sends them to the brain through the optic nerve. 

Floaters move with the eyes and can appear to vanish when you try to look at them directly but drift slowly when the eyes are still. They are a common occurrence and are generally not a cause for concern. However, you should consult your eye doctor at Eye Care Center if you notice a sudden increase in floaters.


What Are Eye Flashes?

These are sparks or strands of light that flicker across the visual field. Various factors can cause them, including:


  • Muscle spasms in the eyelid

  • A blow to the head

  • Irritation of the surface of the eye

Sometimes, they can signal a more severe underlying condition, such as a retinal detachment—the separation of the retina from the back of the eye. If you notice flashes in your vision or a sudden increase in floaters, it is best to consult an eye doctor to rule out any severe underlying conditions.


Are They Harmful?

Floaters and flashes are usually harmless and do not require treatment. However, they can signify a more severe underlying condition, such as a retinal detachment. This condition involves a separation of the retina from the back of the eye, causing vision loss if not treated immediately. 


When Should You See a Doctor About Floaters and Flashes?

In most cases, these visual phenomena do not require medical attention. You can ignore them unless you notice a sudden increase in their appearance or if they interfere with your vision. When that happens, it is best to seek medical intervention. It is also a good idea to see an eye doctor if you have any of the following symptoms:


  • Redness or eye pain

  • Sudden onset of flashes and floaters

  • Foreign object sensation in your eye

  • Decreased vision or presence of a shadowy area in your visual field

  • Flashes in only one eye



Flashes and floaters can happen at any age, but they are more common in people over 50. They are more noticeable in bright lighting and can be bothersome at times. However, they are generally not a cause for concern. If you notice an increase in these visual phenomena, or if they interfere with your vision, you should see an eye doctor as soon as possible.

For more on eye flashes and floaters, visit Eye Care Center at our Fridley, Maple Grove, or Maplewood, Minnesota offices. Call (763) 308-8440, (651) 777-3555, or (763) 420-6981 to schedule an appointment today.

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