Floaters and Flashes

may appear as different shapes, such as specks, clouds, dots, circles, lines, or cobwebs. You can often see them when looking at a plain background, like a blank wall or blue sky. Clumps and strands within the gel of the eye cast shadows on the retina, the layer of cells lining the back of the eye that senses light and allows you to see.

Flashes look like flashing lights or lightning streaks. They can appear off and on for several weeks, and become more common with age. Some people experience flashes of light that appear as jagged lines or "heat waves" in both eyes at once, lasting 10 to 20 minutes. These types of flashes are usually caused by a spasm of blood vessels in the brain, which is called migraine.


Floaters may be a symptom of a tear in the retina, which is a serious problem. If a retinal tear is not treated, the retina may detach from the back of the eye. The only treatment for a detached retina is surgery.

Other floaters are harmless and fade over time or become less bothersome, requiring no treatment. Surgery to remove floaters is almost never required. Even if you have had floaters for years, you should schedule an eye examination with us if you suddenly notice new ones.


When we examine your eyes, your pupils may be dilated with eyedrops. During this painless examination, your doctor will carefully observe areas of your eye, including the retina and the vitreous gel. If your eyes have been dilated, you will need to make arrangements for someone to drive you home afterward.

Causes/Risk Factors

Floaters are more common when people reach middle age. As we age, the vitreous gel may start to thicken or shrink, forming clumps or strands inside the eye. The vitreous gel pulls away from the back wall of the eye, causing a posterior vitreous detachment. This is a common cause of floaters.

Posterior vitreous detachment is more common in people who:

Are nearsighted

Have undergone cataract operations

Have had YAG laser surgery of the eye

Have had inflammation inside the eye


As we grow older, it is more common to experience flashes. They can appear off and on for several weeks or months. If you notice the sudden appearance of light flashes, you should contact your Eye M.D. immediately in case the retina has been torn