Have You Ever Seen Floaters Or Flashes Of Light?

Published on 02/22/2022

Have you ever looked at a blank wall or stared off into space or the sky and noticed clear-ish, random shapes “floating” by your field of vision? You blink, but they don’t go away, and they move with you as you look in other directions. Those are called floaters. While they’re normal under those circumstances, they are not typically a part of the visual field otherwise. The same is true of any sudden flashes or bursts of light.

Floaters Or Flashes Of Lights

If you start to see floaters or flashes of light regularly, schedule an appointment with your optometrist. It’s not considered “normal” and may indicate a potential eye issue.

Why floaters?

The middle of your eye is filled with a thick, gel-like substance called vitreous humor, or vitreous. Sometimes, small amounts of the gel solidify. When they move through the vitreous, they often cross the center of the retina, called the macula, making them visible. Most patients describe floaters as:

  • Specks of dust
  • Pale gray blobs
  • Squiggles
  • Thread-like strands
  • Spider-like shapes
  • Small shadows
  • Black or very dark spots

At first, you may be tempted to rub your eyes or to blink to get them to clear. However, floaters occur in the middle rather than the surface of the eye, so there is no way to eliminate them. 

As we age, the vitreous begins to shrink, causing more solidified vitreous particles, which leads to more visible floaters. But, again, this is normal in most cases. Over time, your brain gets used to the more constant appearance of floaters, and you’ll hardly notice them. Even so, if you’ve suddenly noticed floaters are a more frequent occurrence than usual, it’s worth visiting your optometrist. 

Floaters can also occur as the result of retinal tears or retinal detachment. This happens when the natural shrinking and pulling away of the vitreous causes the retina to tear or pull away from the eye. Torn or detached retinas cause vision loss but are almost always treatable using outpatient laser treatment for tears or surgical reattachment for detached retinas.

Causes of floaters

As we mentioned, floaters are normal and increase as we age. However, other situations increase the number of floaters you see:

Other things that increase your chances of developing floaters are:

  • Diabetes
  • Being nearsighted
  • History of eye swelling or inflammation
  • Cataract surgery
  • Certain autoimmune disorders or diseases

If the floaters occur with the onset of allergies or during/right after an eye infection, wait a few days and see if they subside. Otherwise, contact your eye doctor and check-in. Based on your answers to a few questions, s/he may want you to come in for an eye exam to rule out any serious concerns.

What about flashes of light?

Flashes of light are different from floaters, although they may accompany the onset or increase of floaters in your visual field. Patients who see flashes of light describe them as looking like shooting stars or lightning streaks. While you may see flashes of light when you rub your eyes or when the eye experiences sudden impact or trauma, repeatedly seeing flashes of light without cause deserves investigation. Similarly, if you have sudden flashes of light that don’t recede within days of an eye injury, contact your optometrist.

Flashes of light are different from halos around lights at night or the spots, lines, or patches of light known as migraine auras, which precede migraines. These flashes occur out of nowhere and are unrelated to any lights or experiences in your environment. They flash quickly and recede suddenly.

Causes of light flashes

Like floaters, light flashes occur more frequently as we age, especially for adults who are 50 years old or older. Flashes of light are also a potential indicator of a torn or detached retina, which is why it’s best to schedule an appointment if it’s a new occurrence for you. 

Contact your optometrist immediately if:

  • You begin seeing flashes of light, and you haven’t seen them before
  • Light flashes occur with more frequency than normal
  • You notice cloudy or dark spots in your vision
  • Flashes are accompanied by any shadowing or loss of peripheral vision
  • There is a dark curtain across your field of vision

If the flashes of light continue after you’ve been hit in the face or the eye, we recommend contacting your physician or a nurse hotline to see if a visit to an optometrist is in order. 

The good news is that most torn or detached retinas are treatable, but the sooner the better to prevent any further damage or unnecessary vision loss. There are also other causes for seeing light flashes, but most of them are rare. They include:

  • Choroidal Neovascular Membranes
  • Cytomegalovirus Retinitis
  • Detached and Torn Retina
  • Histoplasmosis
  • HIV/AIDS
  • Migraine
  • Posterior Vitreous Detachment
  • Stickler Syndrome
  • Vitreomacular Traction
  • Hereditary retinal diseases like retinitis pigmentosa or choroideremia

Don’t spend too much time worrying about the cause. It’s better to visit your optometrist and go from there. 

Consider Keeping A Journal

We recommend keeping a journal because these occurrences can be fleeting or hard to quantify. Write down the date and time, descriptions of what you saw or noticed, how long it lasted, etc. Bring it with you to your appointment and we’ll go over it with you.

Call Us And Make An Appointment

Are you just starting to notice floaters or flashes of light? Are floaters or light flashes increasing in their frequency? Let’s get to the bottom of it. Schedule an appointment with us here at Eye to Eye Family Vision Care so we can put your mind at ease.