Understanding
Floaters and Flashes

You have likely noticed them before: random shapes or flashes of light in your vision, especially when looking at the sky or a solid-colored wall. Known as floaters and flashes respectively, these are usually temporary and harmless. However, in some cases they may be a symptom of a more serious condition.

If you are concerned about a lingering floater or flash, the doctors at Ophthalmology Physicians and Surgeons in Montgomery, Bucks, and Northampton Counties, PA, can assess your vision during a consultation to identify potential risks.

Flashes and Floaters: What are They?

Floaters can appear as dots, lines, circles, clouds, or even cobwebs. Whatever their form, though, these shapes that appear to be moving just in front of your eye are actually floating around inside of it. Most floaters are caused by small clusters of gel floating in the fluid that fills your eye, known as the vitreous. The shapes we see are caused by the shadows cast on the retina by the floaters.

Flashes or photopsia are the result of a slightly different phenomenon. Have you ever heard someone say they “saw stars” when they were hit in the eye? These flashes of light can occur when the vitreous inside the eye pulls on the retina. It is not uncommon for people to experience flashes off and on for weeks or even months. While this usually occurs more often as we age, sudden flashes could indicate the retina has been torn. In this case, it is important to see an ophthalmologist as soon as possible.

Diagram of floaters in the vitreous within the eye.
Floaters are the result of shadows thrown on the retina by clumps of gel within the eye. While distracting, they are rarely a sign of health problems. 

    

What Causes Floaters?

If floaters are caused by shadows from clumps of gel in the eye, what causes these clumps to form in the first place?

The vitreous inside the eye is made up of many substances, including water, collagen, and proteins. Whenever these build up, they can form clumps.

You may also notice that floaters often move. Whenever we try to chase them with our vision, they float just out of view. This is because all of these substances are suspended in fluid: when the eye moves, so do the substances inside it.

What Causes Flashes?

There are a variety of reasons why someone may see flashes. In some cases, they may be a result of trauma to the eye or the head. However, they are also common in patients who suffer migraines resulting from blood vessels spasming in the brain. In fact, there is a condition known as an ophthalmic migraine, in which an individual sees flashes, but never develops a headache.

In most cases, flashes and floaters are harmless.

When to Seek Medical Attention

In most cases, flashes and floaters are harmless. However, it is a good idea to tell your doctor when and if you experience them to make sure they are not indicative of a more serious condition. If you experience a sudden increase in flashes or floaters you see, seek medical immediately.

Get Your Vision Evaluated

Flashes and floaters are normal. However, if you notice any changes whatsoever in your vision, schedule a consultation with one of our doctors at Ophthalmology Physicians and Surgeons.Contact us online or call our office at (215) 672-4300.

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