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Floaters and Flashes

Floaters and flashes are common occurrences in middle and older-aged adults, and in most instances are not serious. Floaters are caused by small pieces of gel or clumps of cells within the vitreous, the liquid solution inside the white portion of the eye. These gel pieces cast shadows, which is what the retina sees. And while these shadows appear to be floating in front of the eye, they are actually present within the eye. See an ophthalmologist if floaters increase in number, become especially bothersome or begin to block vision. In some cases, the vitreous can pull away from the back of the eye, causing a posterior vitreous detachment and possibly a retinal tear or detachment.

Flashes occur when the vitreous gel inside the eye pulls on the retina, causing a bright streak of light. Most instances of flashes are not serious, but a sudden occurrence should be evaluated by an ophthalmologist to rule out a torn retina. For more information about floaters and flashers, or to schedule an appointment with a Virginia Mason Franciscan Health ophthalmologist, call 206-223-6840.

  • As we age, the vitreous gel within the eye can become thicker and pull away from the back of the eye. When this occurs, microscopic strands—floaters—develop within the vitreous gel that then "float" within your line of vision. Flashes are also caused by vitreous that pulls on the retina.

    Risk factors for the development of floaters and flashes include:

    • Age
    • Nearsightedness
    • Inflammation within the eye
    • Cataract surgery
  • In almost every instance, floaters and flashes are diagnosed by the patient and confirmed by an ophthalmologist or optometrist. Your eye doctor will dilate your eyes and perform a slit-lamp and ophthalmoscopic examination to view the inside structure of your eye.

  • Floaters and flashes can be bothersome occurrences, but most are not serious. Treatment to remove floaters is not commonly indicated. A sudden occurrence of new floaters should be evaluated by an optometrist or ophthalmologist. Flashes that increase in frequency should be seen by your eye doctor to rule out a torn or detached retina. Retinal tear or detachment requires surgery to repair.