Flashes and Floaters

Flashes and Floaters

Flashes and floaters of the eye usually results from age related changes to vitreous which is the thick gel that fills the eye and is firmly attached to the retina from birth. During the aging process, the vitreous become more liquid that gel, and at some point pulls away from the retina at the back of the eye. This separation is known as a posterior vitreous detachment (PVD). During a PVD, vitreous debris that was once secure in the firm vitreous gel loosens and moves around in the form of floaters, casting temporary shadows on the retina

When this occurs, patient experience visual disturbances in the form of flashes of light or floaters (specks or strands anywhere in the field of vision). These symptoms are not typically a reason for excessive concern, but regardless should be evaluated by an eye doctor.


Flashes occur as a result of pressure or traction on the retina, the layers of nerves in the back of the eye where images are detected and transmitted to the brain. Floaters occur when collagen fibers move and float within the vitreous and into the field of vision, causing patients to see specks, strands, webs or other shapes as the fibers cast shadows on the retina. Flashes and floaters are most visible when looking at the plain light and bright background

Aside from aging, floaters or flashes appear most often in eyes that are injured, inflamed, or nearsighted, and can be a result of any of the following:

  • Cataract or YAG laser surgery
  • Head trauma
  • Injury to the eye
  • Nearsighted vision
  • Eye infection
  • Diabetes
  • Uveitis
  • Migraine


Although flashes and floaters are usually harmless and do not need treatment aside from regular monitoring, patients bothered by the visual disturbances or those experiencing significant visual interference, may require medical intervention

An option is surgery to remove and replace the vitreous gel. This procedure, known as vitrectomy, removes the natural vitreous and replaces it with fluid. In the case of retinal detachment, emergency treatment is necessary to prevent serious complications and permanent vison loss. With prompt treatment, most patients, even with retinal tears are able to maintain normal healthy vision.

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