Flashes and Floaters

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Floaters are black or gray small specks or clouds moving in your field of vision and are usually more noticeable when looking at a blank wall or a clear blue sky. Most people have some floaters normally, but do not notice them until they become numerous or more prominent.

In most cases, floaters are part of the natural aging process. Floaters may look like cobwebs, squiggly lines or floating bugs. They may appear to be in front of the eye, but are actually floating inside. As we get older, the vitreous (the clear gel-like substance that fills the inside of the eye) tends to shrink slightly and detach from the retina, sometimes forming clumps within the eye. What you see are the shadows these clumps cast on the retina.

Floaters are more common is people who: are nearsighted, have recently had cataract surgery, have recently had Yag laser capsulotomy, have had inflammation inside of the eye (uveitis or toxoplasmosis).

Floaters can get in the way of clear vision, often when reading. Try looking up and then down to move the floaters out of the way. While some floaters may remain, many of them will fade over time.


The appearance of flashing lights is caused when the vitreous starts tugging on the retina at the time of vitreous separation. Flashes look like twinkles or lightning streaks that last for just a second, and sometimes they occur repeatedly or on and off for a certain amount of time.

When these flashes of light instead of a second, last for minutes or hours, they may be associated with a migraine.

Floaters and flashes are sometimes indication of retinal tears. When the vitreous shrinks, it can pull on the retina and cause a tear. A torn retina is a serious problem since it can lead to a retinal detachment.

Floaters and flashes are considered an emergency. If new floaters appear suddenly or you see sudden flashes of light, see an ophthalmologist immediately.