Are You Having Flashes of Light or Floaters?

Did you know that flashes of light and floaters can be symptoms to retinal detachment?

How do I know if I have floaters or flashes of light?

Floaters are small dots in your vision that are easily seen when looking at a plain background, like a blank wall. Floaters can be all different colors, transparencies, and shapes (ie. dots, lines, and cobwebs). Flashes of light may look like jagged lines or wavy heat- wave lines across your vision. They are sometimes described as “shooting stars” and “lightning streaks” that are typically seen in the corners of your vision, especially when in a dark room.

Where do floaters and flashes of light come from?

Your retina, or the back of your eye, is like a wall filled with nerves that surrounds a clear jelly-like vitreous fluid. These nerves sense light which ultimately allows you to see.  Floaters are caused by clumps of cells or protein that float in the vitreous fluid. Often, the vitreous gel rubs or pulls away from the walls of your retina, which causes one to sense a flash of light. You do not actually see the clumps of proteins themselves;  you can, though, see the shadows that they cast on your retina. When you move your eyes, your floaters will move as well. Usually when you try to look at a floater it will “fly away” and will start floating back when your eyes stop moving.

So, it seems like floaters and flashes of light are almost the same thing, what’s the difference?

The difference between flashes of light and floaters is how they are formed. Floaters are formed by the shrinking and pulling away of the vitreous fluid from the retina. Flashes of light are when the vitreous fluid bumps or rubs up against the retina.

Who has the most potential to develop flashes of light and floaters?

The answer to this question is everyone’s favorite answer. Floaters appear more frequently with age, and generally develop in everyone at some point in time. The tiny fibers that hold the vitreous fluid to the retina start to break. Studies show that one quarter of people in their 60s have floaters and about two thirds in their 80s. Flashes can occur anytime that the vitreous gel “tugs” sufficiently on the retina, as it begins to separate itself with age.

People who are nearsighted  have a higher risk of developing serious floaters and subsequent retinal detachment. The chances of having these symptoms also increase with having cataract surgery and laser eye surgery. Patients with a previous eye injury and family history of retinal detachments also have a higher risk.

How do I know when to get these checked out?

If you have had any symptoms that seem out of the ordinary, you should call to schedule an appointment as soon as possible! Call especially if you have been experiencing any of the following:

  • One or more new, large floaters
  • Many new floaters that all suddenly appear
  • Persistent flashes of light
  • Loss of vision – entire or partial
  • Any changes in vision after getting hit in the eye

What should I do if I see floaters of flashes of light?

If you have any vision changes, like sudden blindness, new floaters, or constant flashes of light, give us a call to schedule an appointment today at (716) 839-9009. Dr. Notaro has over 20 years of experience working with patients that have flashes of light and floaters.

Sometimes there is no treatment for floaters.  Many of them will seem to fade over time. If it is noted that retinal tears or detachments have occurred from the floater pulling on the retina, then numerous treatment options are available. Give us a call today to get your floaters and flashes of light looked at by Dr. Notaro at (716) 839-9009.


For more information check out these awesome references!

“Floaters and Flashes.” Thyroid Eye Disease (TED or Graves Eye Disease) Kellogg Eye Center Michigan Medicine.
Gudgel, Dan and Boyd, Kierstan. “Flashes of Light.” American Academy of Ophthalmology.
“Eye Floaters and Flashes: When Are They Serious?” Oregon Eye Specialists. June 20, 2013.
Skerrett, Patrick. “What you can do about floaters and flashes in the eye” Harvard Health Publishing. June 10. 2013.