What Causes Floaters and Flashes in the Eye?

Eye Floaters image

There are few things as distracting as little specks or bursts of light just in the corner of your vision. Eye floaters and flashes are common annoyances that nearly everyone will experience at some point in their life.

While these occurrences are usually a normal part of aging, they can sometimes be a warning sign of a bigger problem. Learn more from the doctors at The EyeDoctors Optometrists about floaters and flashes, causes, and the services and treatment options we provide.

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What are eye floaters?

Eye floaters, or vitreous floaters, are tiny specks that appear in your field of vision. These specks can look like zigzags, dark spots, blurry areas or other distracting shapes. While these spots may appear as though they are floating in front of your eye, right on the surface, they develop inside the eye itself.

Floaters are made up of tiny fibers of collagen that clump in the clear gel (vitreous humor) that lies between the lens of your eye and the retina. They develop when the collagen in your vitreous humor starts to break down because of nearsightedness or aging. These clumps are usually harmless and will go away with time.

What are eye flashes?

Eye flashes, or photopsias, are similar to eye floaters, but instead of seeing a speck, people see a flash of color or light.

Like eye floaters, flashes develop in the vitreous humor. As you age, the collagen in your body breaks down more quickly, causing the gel of the vitreous humor to shrink and pull away from the retina. This creates momentary flashes of light.

Eye floaters and flashes causes

Occasional floaters and flashes are normal occurrences, and they typically appear and subside quickly. They are sometimes more common early in the morning, while reading or after rubbing your eyes.

Frequent floaters and flashes can be a sign of a condition called posterior vitreous detachment (PVD), which is a natural change in the eye. While occasional flashes and floaters are symptoms of the collagen in the vitreous humor breaking down, PVD occurs when this layer of gel actually begins to detach from the retina. PVD isn't painful and doesn't usually cause vision loss, though it can potentially lead to complications that do.

While PVD and age are the most common causes of flashes and floaters, there are others, too. Some of the less serious causes of floaters and flashes can include:

  • Eye inflammation

  • Eye infections

  • Eye injury

  • Severe cough

  • Migraine or headache

  • Diabetes

More serious causes may include:

  • Histoplasmosis

  • Choroidal neovascular membranes

  • Cytomegalovirus retinitis

  • Detached and torn retina

  • HIV/AIDS

  • Stickler syndrome

  • Vitreomacular traction

When caused by a more serious condition, floaters and flashes typically occur alongside other symptoms.

Risk factors for floaters and flashes

Anyone can develop eye floaters and flashes. Nearsightedness and aging are linked to both symptoms, but there are other conditions that could put you at a greater risk of developing them, too.

Some risk factors for developing floaters and flashes include:

  • A family history of eye problems

  • Eye injuries

  • Cataract surgery

  • Yttrium aluminum garnet (YAG) laser surgery after cataract surgery

When to seek treatment

In most cases, floaters and flashes are harmless and will go away with time. But it is important to always see your doctor with the onset of new flashes and floaters to rule out the more serious causes.

As mentioned above, one of the primary causes of floaters and flashes is PVD, a benign condition that occurs with age. While PVD by itself generally doesn't cause problems, it can lead to more serious complications. One of the most common complications is damage to the retina in the form of detachment, tears or hemorrhaging. Retinal detachment and other retinal damage typically require treatment and surgery to avoid vision loss.

If retinal damage occurs because of PVD, you may notice severe vision changes alongside floaters and flashes. However, this isn't always the case, so it's important to see your eye doctor on a regular basis. Your eye doctor at Clarkson Eyecare will diagnose PVD when it first occurs and know to look for signs of complications during your regular check-ups.

In addition, there are multiple other vision problems involving floaters and flashes that could signal a need to see your doctor. If vision loss occurs alongside floaters or flashes, that may indicate a more serious condition.

If you experience sudden changes to your vision or multiple symptoms at once, visit your doctor as soon as possible. In the unlikely event that your floaters are caused by a more serious complication like a retinal tear or detachment, you may be a candidate for laser therapy or surgery.

Clarkson Eyecare: Comprehensive Eye Exams

Schedule an Eye Exam at The EyeDoctors Optometrists

If you are experiencing floaters and flashes without serious complications, but they are causing you to have difficulty seeing, removing floaters with laser therapy may be an option for you. Consulting an eye doctor, like at The EyeDoctors Optometrists, will help you determine the risks and benefits of such a procedure.

comprehensive eye exam from The EyeDoctors Optometrists can help identify any causes of floaters and flashes, or any other eye issues you might be experiencing. Find a location close to you and schedule an eye exam today.