Flashes and Floaters

Floaters are an extremely common and harmless occurrence, observed particularly against a bright background, as little black specs or spots that seem to float around within your visual field.

Flashes refer to the occasional flashes of light observed in the far periphery or corner of your vision, most often on extreme gaze.

Neither are of any great significance unless they occur in very large and increased numbers. If this is the case, they could be the sign of a retinal detachment, and you are advised to seek urgent advice.

Floaters have the following features:

  • They can be of varying shapes and sizes and look like black dots, shadows, hairs or cobwebs.
  • They’re more prominent against pale and light backgrounds, especially in sunlight.
  • They can move when your eye moves and dart away when you look at them.

Flashes have the following features:

  • They can look like small sparkles, lightning, fireworks or streaks of light.
  • Tend to be in the extreme corners of the eye.
  • Last for undefined amounts of time and can randomly come and go.
  • Always check one eye at a time, with the other eye covered.

Flashes and floaters are common among people over the age of 65 and those who are short sighted.

As we get older the ball of jelly inside our eyes (the vitreous humour) changes - it shrinks and pulls away from the retina, creating small gaps which cast shadows onto the retina manifesting themselves as floaters. Sometimes the vitreous humour can pull on the retina itself, physically stimulating the retina, usually leading to flashes.

Sometimes this pulling process can cause the retina to rip or tear. This is what causes the vast increase in floaters and sometimes flashes and can be the start of a retinal detachment and needs urgent attention.

Flashes and floaters can sometimes be caused by other eye diseases.

Flashes and floaters are harmless and, while irritating, no treatment is usually needed. They should always be monitored, mentioned and discussed with an Optometrist during an eye examination. In many cases they will get less noticeable on their own as the brain adjusts to the changes in the eyes.

However, you should consult your Optometrist immediately if you experience:

  • A sudden increase in the number of floaters or if they start to look different - especially if associated with increases in flashing lights.
  • See more noticeable floaters or they appear in the second eye too.
  • A change in vision or floaters that make day-to-day activity difficult, such as driving or reading.
  • Grey areas, shadows or a curtain effect appearing in your vision.

The above could be signs of a more serious issue such as a retinal detachment or a retinal tear and medical assistance should be sought immediately.

If you notice flashes or floaters you should discuss it with your Optometrist, who will check the back of your eye, the vitreous humour and your peripheral fields of vision. They may need to use dilating eye drops to get a better view of the retina. If they suspect that there may be a more serious cause then they will refer you to the hospital.

We recommend you have an Eye Test at least every two years, regardless of symptoms and/or conditions.



If you are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned, please make an appointment with the optical expert at your nearest Vision Express store.

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