Floaters and Flashes

Published: 2023-05-16

Floaters look like small specks, dots, circles, lines or cobwebs in your field of vision. They are often more noticeable when looking at a plain background, such as a white page, wall, or clear sky. While they seem to be in front of your eye, they are floating inside. Floaters are often small clumps of protein inside the gel-like substance called the vitreous that fills your eye. What you see are the shadows these clumps cast on your retina.

As we grow older, the vitreous gel starts to shrink, forming clumps or strands inside the eye. The process of the vitreous pulling away enough to separate from the back wall of the eye is called posterior vitreous detachment (PVD). It often results in a larger often round floater that can be symptomatic.

Flashes can look like flashing lights or lightning streaks in your field of vision. They happen when the vitreous pulls on the retina.

Sometimes floaters and flashes signal conditions that can lead to vision loss. These symptoms can be alarming, especially if they develop very suddenly. To find out if a retinal tear or retinal detachment (have these be terms patients can click on that will take them to the retinal tear/detachment section) is occurring, you should be evaluated with a thorough retinal exam immediately if you notice the following symptoms, especially if you are over 45 years of age, have had an injury to your eyes or head, or if you have substantial nearsightedness:

A sudden increase in size and number of floatersA sudden appearance of flashesHaving a shadow or curtain appear in your peripheral visionSeeing a gray curtain moving across your field of visionHaving a sudden decrease in your central vision'