Treating Flashes and Floaters


Vision occurs when light enters the eye through the cornea (a clear layer of tissue over the pupil and iris), passes through the vitreous (a gel-like substance that fills your eye), and focuses on the retina (the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye). These light signals are converted into electrical signals that are sent through the optic nerve to the brain. 

Flashes and floaters can disrupt vision and are often the result of age-related changes in the eye. They’re very common and, for many, are a natural part of aging. While occasional flashes and floaters don’t necessarily mean your eyes are no longer healthy, it’s important to maintain regular eye exams to ensure you aren’t experiencing other serious eye issues.

What causes flashes and floaters?

As we age, the vitreous gel inside the eye begins to shrink, forming microscopic clumps or strands of cells that cast shadows on the retina. These are your floaters. Fortunately, they tend to settle towards the bottom of the eye where you don’t notice them. 

Sometimes, however, this shrinking can cause tiny tears in the retina as it pulls away from the wall of the eye. If these tears bleed, even more floaters may appear. When you see flashes, it means the shrinking vitreous gel is rubbing or pulling at the retina, moving it slightly from its normal position. These flashes of light can appear intermittently for days, weeks, or even months as it heals. 

In addition to age, trauma to the eye, and migraine headaches, retinal detachment is a common cause of floaters and flashes. Retinal detachment is a serious condition that requires immediate medical attention. Warning signs of a possible retinal detachment include:

  • Flashing lights
  • Sudden appearance of new floaters
  • Shadows in your periphery (side) vision
  • Gray curtain moving across your field of vision

What do flashes and floaters look like?

Flashes typically look like:

  • A bright spot or streak of light
  • A jagged light that looks like lightning
  • Bursts of light that look like a camera flash or firework

Floaters typically look like:

  • Thread-like lines
  • Cobweb-like shapes
  • Small cloud-like shadows
  • Black or very dark dots or spots

When should I worry about flashes and floaters?

While the occasional eye floater or flash isn’t typically cause for concern, you should call your ophthalmologist right away if you start to notice a marked increase in these types of vision issues. Frequent flashes and floaters interrupting your field of vision could be a sign of a serious vision problem, like a detached or torn retina.

Treatment options for flashes and floaters

No treatment is recommended for occasional flashes and floaters. However, disruptive flashes and floaters are typically treated by taking care of the condition causing them (e.g., migraine headaches, retinal tears, or detachment). If you suffer from frequent migraines, your ophthalmologist will work with a neurologist, family physician, or internist.

Surgery is almost always used to repair a significant retinal tear, hole, or detachment, and several treatment options are available. Talk to your ophthalmologist to help you determine which procedure or combination of procedures is right for you.

The board-certified ophthalmologists and optometrists at Eye Specialists of Louisiana are skilled and experienced in diagnosing and treating conditions related to flashes and floaters. It’s time to see clearly again—Call 255-768-7777 to schedule an appointment.