Flashes & Floaters

Floaters look like small, dark spots or strands that appear to float in front of your eyes.  Floaters are very common and are normally harmless.  They are more common if you are short sighted or as you get older.  Some people notice they see flashes of light.  These can be due to movement of the gel inside the eye.

Very occasionally flashes or an increase in floaters can be a sign of a retinal detachment, which needs treatment as soon as possible.  This is more common as you get older, or in people who are short sighted or have had eye surgery.

If you get any of the following symptoms you should seek urgent attention either from an optometrist or eye casualty department.

Why do floaters appear?

Some people are born with floaters.  Other floaters occur as you get older and the gel inside the eye, the vitreous humour, naturally shrinks.  The gel separates into a watery fluid and wavy collagen fibrils which are seen as line shaped floaters.



Sometimes the gel shrinks enough to collapse away from the retina, commonly causing people to see a large, ring shaped floater.

The collapse of the vitreous gel can pull on the retina which may cause you to see flashes of light.  If this physical pulling on the retina causes damage to the retina you may see a sudden increase in lots of small floating specs.



What might happen if I have floaters?

Most of the time floaters are harmless.  They may be annoying or frustrating to the vision but treatment is not advised.

Occasionally a sudden increase in floaters may be a sign of a more serious eye condition such as retinal detachment so you should always seek immediate attention whenever there is a change in your vision such as new floaters or flashing lights so that this sort of complication can be ruled out.

What are flashes?

Some people may see flashes of light in front of one of their eyes, like small sparkles or lightning.  These tend to be in the extreme corners of your vision, come and go and don’t obscure part of your vision.

Flashes occur when there is a pull on your retina.  This might happen as the vitreous gel inside your eye becomes more liquid and collapses.  Flashes related to a collapse of the gel inside the eye are more likely to happen as you get older.  However, constant flashes may be a sign of retinal detachment.

A retinal tear or detachment may lead to a sudden increase in floaters as well as flashes.  If you notice these symptoms you should seek immediate attention from an optometrist or eye casualty department.