Floaters and Flashes


What are floaters?

Sometimes you may see a small speck or clouds that move into your field of vision. These happen to be called floaters. You may see them when you are looking at a plain background such as a bare wall or the sky.

Floaters are actually a clump of cells or gel that is inside the vitreous, the clear gel like substance that fills the inside of your eye.

When these objects appear to be in front of your eye, they are actually floating around inside of it. What you are actually seeing are the shadows that they are casting on your retina, the layer of cells that line the back of your eye that allows you to see and senses light.

Floaters can appear to be different shapes like circles, clouds, cobwebs, lines, or dots.

What causes a floater?

When people begin to reach their middle age, the vitreous gel may begin to shrink or thicken which forms strands or clumps within the eye. The vitreous gel will then pull back from the wall of the eye, which causes posterior vitreous detachment. This is a common for a case of floaters.

The posterior vitreous detachment happens to be very common in those who:

  • Have had YAG laser surgery of the eye
  • Have undergone cataract operations
  • Have had inflammation inside of the eye
  • Are nearsighted.

When a floater shows up, it can be quite alarming, especially if they just show up. You may contact your eye doctor or ophthalmologist right away if you develop any new floaters, especially if you happen to be over 45 years old.

Are floaters serious?

Your retina can tear if the any of the vitreous gel that is shrinking pulls from your eye wall. This can sometimes cause small amounts of bleeding which may make you believe it is a new floater.

A torn retina is a very serious issue, since it may lead to retinal detachment. You need to see an ophthalmologist as soon as you can if:

  • You get flashes of light that appear suddenly
  • Even one new floater appears

If you begin to notice other types of symptoms such as the loss of peripheral vision, you need to see your ophthalmologist.

Can a floater be removed?

Floaters could be the symptom of a tear within the retina, which happens to be a quite serious issue. If a retinal tear isn’t treated, the retina may detach from the back of the eye and the only treatment would be a detached retina surgery.

Other floaters are quite harmless and will eventually fade over time or they may become less bothersome, which require no treatment. Surgery to remove the floaters is often never required. Vitamin therapy will not cause your floaters to disappear.

Even if you have had floaters for years, you should always schedule an eye exam within your ophthalmologist if you begin to see new floaters.

What can cause flashing lights?

When the vitreous gel pulls or rubs on the retina, you may begin to see what look like lightening streaks or flashing lights. You may have had the same experience if you have been hit in the eye and have seen stars.

The flashes of light can often appear on and off for several weeks or months. As you begin to age, you are more likely to begin to see flashes. If you notice the sudden appearance of flashing lights, you should contact your ophthalmologist immediately if your retina has been torn.


There are some people that will experience flashes of light that may appear as heat waves or jagged lines in both eyes that last anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes. These are often caused by a spasm of blood vessels in your brain, which is called a migraine.

If a headache follows the flashes, it is called a migraine headache. Although, the heatwaves or jagged line can happen without a headache. In this particular case, these light flashes will often called the ophthalmic migraine. This is simply a migraine without a headache. Speak with your family ophthalmologist if have had these symptoms.

How does an eye exam work?

When the ophthalmologist examines your eyes, you may have your pupils dilated with eye drops. It is during this exam that your ophthalmologist will observe all the areas of your eye, including your vitreous and retina. If your eyes have been dilated, you will need to make an arrangement for someone to drive you home.

Floaters and flashes of light will become more common as you grow older. Although not all flashes and floaters are serious, you should always have an eye examination by a registered ophthalmologist to ensure that there is no damage to your retina.