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Everything You Need to Know About Flashes & Floaters

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Have you ever been hit hard in the head and experienced the sensation of “seeing stars”? Have you ever looked at the sun, or rather a very bright light, then saw dark specs moving within your field of vision?

These sensations are much like the ones you would receive if you had flashes and/or floaters. But, before we go any further, what exactly are flashes and floaters?

Defining Flashes & Floaters

Flashes and floaters are not the same thing. The term refers to two separate experiences – Flashes and floaters.


Tiny dark specks or clouds moving in our field of vision are what the term floaters refers to. Floaters appear to be directly in front of us.

However, if you have ever experienced one of the sensations described above you will know that it is impossible to focus your vision on them. Why is that?

The reason being is that floaters are actually tiny clumps of cells inside our eyes. They are located in the vitreous – A clear, gel-like fluid that fills the inside of our eyes.

The reason we see floaters is because they cast a shadow on our retina.

  • The Retina is responsible for sending messages to our brain via the optic nerve which are then turned into the visual images we see.

Floaters may appear in different shapes and sizes. Some of the most popular shapes of floaters are little dots, circles, lines, clouds, or cobweb-like shapes.


Now that you know what floaters are, we can more accurately explain to you what is referred to as flashes.

In the situation that the vitreous gel (remember that clear gel-like fluid in our eyes?) pulls on your retina, you may experience a sensation of flashing lights or lightning.

This is what we call flashes. This sensation is much like the one described above as “seeing stars.” Someone diagnosed with flashes and floaters may experience flashes for up to several weeks or months.

What Causes These Strange Occurrences?

With age it is more common to experience these sensations due to changes with the vitreous. As we age, the gel begins to pull away from the inside surface of our eye, sometimes resulting in flashes and floaters.

The vitreous gel pulls away with age due to the fact that it may begin to shrink. Typically, flashes and floaters are not dangerous. However, if you begin to experience a large amount of flashes and floaters all of a sudden, it may be a sign for alarm.

Retinal Detachment

A sudden increase in the occurrence of flashes and floaters could be a sign of a retinal tear. As you have probably guessed, this is not a good thing.

If the retina tears due to the shrinking of the vitreous, a retinal detachment is not too far behind. If not promptly treated, a retinal detachment can cause permanent vision loss.

Symptoms of Flashes & Floaters

As a retinal detachment could cause serious damage to your vision, it is important to know the symptoms of flashes and floaters to seek medical attention before it is too late.

Symptoms of flashes and floaters include:

  • “Showers” of floaters
  • Sudden flashes of light
  • Loss of side vision
  • Sensation of a curtain being drawn over your eyes

As previously stated, flashes and floaters are usually harmless. However, if you experience a sudden increase of any of the symptoms above seek medical attention immediately.

Written by Dr. Daniel Evans

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