Flashes and Floaters

Lots of people experience ‘Flashes and floaters’, especially as they get older. Generally, eye flashes and floaters are harmless and are no cause for concern, especially if:

  • You’ve had them for a long time
  • They’re not getting worse
  • Your vision isn’t affected

This page attempts to explain what they are and what causes them.

It is important to note that if there are sudden changes to your vision, then you should contact your local optician or go to A&E at your local hospital.

Age-Related Macular Degeneration

What are floaters?

Floaters appear as spots, lines or cobweb effects that float in the field of vision. They are most obvious if you look at a plain surface such as a computer screen, a white wall or clear blue sky.

It is not unusual for people who have healthy eyes to see floaters in their vision, particularly if they are short sighted. Floaters are also more common in older people

What causes floaters?

Floaters usually occur as a result of changes in the jelly-like substance inside the eye, the vitreous humour, due to ageing. They may be caused:

  • By cells clumping together in the clear jelly in the main part of your eye, the vitreous body, and casting shadows on your retina, the light-sensitive layer of the eye.
  • When the gel in the eye, the vitreous humour, naturally shrinks it can separate into a watery fluid and wavy collagen fibrils. The fibrils are seen as line-shaped floaters.
  • By the gel in the eye shrinking more and coming away from the retina, light sensitive lining at the back of your eye. This may cause large ring-shaped floaters.
  • By some eye diseases that cause inflammation but this is not very common.

Floaters may increase if you have had an eye operation such as cataract surgery.

Occasionally, an increase in floaters can be a sign of problems inside the eye. See ‘When should I be concerned’ to know more.

What are flashes?

Sometimes if the jelly inside your eye shrinks a little it can tug on the light-sensitive layer at the back of your eye, the retina. This can cause flashes of light at the edge of your vision or flashes of light in front of your eye like small sparkles, lightning or fireworks.

These are different to shimmering or zig-zag lines that may be associated with a migraine. Migraine shimmers are normally in both eyes.

What causes flashes?

Flashes happen when there is a tug on your retina. This may happen as you get older and the jelly inside your eye shrinks or where it becomes more liquid and collapses. These flashes may occur on and off for a period of weeks.

Flashes can also happen if you are hit in the eye.

When should I be concerned?

Flashes and floaters rarely lead to any serious complications, so you generally don’t need any treatment for them. If they are troublesome, the effect of floaters might be minimised by wearing dark glasses. This will help especially in bright sunlight or when looking at a brightly lit surface. In many cases, the flashes disappear with time and the floaters get less noticeable as your brain adjusts to the jelly change.

If you experience any of the following you should seek urgent medical attention as it could be a symptom that the retina is tearing:

  • Eye flashes and floaters getting worse
  • A sudden shower of new floaters
  • A black shadow in your vision
  • A sudden cloud of spots
  • A ‘curtain’ or veil over your vision
  • Loss of vision
  • Any change in vision

It is important to note, a sudden increase in floaters or constant flashes may be a sign of more serious eye disease such as retinal detachment.

The retina is the part of the eye that sends images to and receives images from your brain. Retinal detachment is when the retina pulls away from the back of your eye and it requires urgent medical attention. It can result in you losing part of or all of your vision. You should seek urgent advice from your Optometrist or visit your nearest A&E.

What is the treatment for retinal detachment?

A tear in your retina may be treated using a laser. If treated quickly you may have a better chance of full recovery. However, if the retina has become detached you will need surgery. The operation may be too late for a full recovery, but may be able to restore most of your vision.

If you have any questions regarding eye flashes and floaters, or any other issues related to your eye health, use our KODAK Lens Optician Finder to locate and contact your nearest KODAK Lens Optician who will be able to offer you friendly, professional advice.

Sources: Association of Optometrists, The College of Optometrists, www.moorfields.nhs.uk

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