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Floaters & Flashes

What are Floaters?

Floaters are small specks or clouds moving in your field of vision. Often, you can see them when looking at a plain background like a blank page, computer screen or a clear blue sky. In reality, floaters are small clumps of cells in the vitreous (the jelly like substance that fills the back of your eye). Floaters are the shadows cast on the retina by these small clumps of cells. Some floaters look like dots or circles, while others look like lines or spider webs, or even clouds.

What Causes Floaters? 

Floaters are commonly caused by a posterior vitreous separation, which is when the vitreous gel thickens and pulls away from the back wall of the eye. This is more common in people who are nearsighted or have just undergone cataract surgery.

Are Floaters Serious? 

It is possible for a retinal tear to occur when the vitreous gel pulls away from the back wall of the eye. A retinal tear is serious and you should see an ophthalmologist as soon as possible if:
-new floaters appear suddenly
-you see sudden flashes of light

Because of the danger of torn retina, call our ophthalmologist if a new floater suddenly appears. While some floaters can remain in your vision for a long period, most will fade over time.

What Causes Flashes? 

When the vitreous gel rubs or pulls at the retina, a person will sometimes experience what looks like flashing lights. As we grow older, it is more common to see flashes, however, if you notice a sudden onset of flashing light, you should see your ophthalmologist immediately.

Some people see flashes of light, zigzag lines, or a “mirage” in both eyes that can last 10-20 minutes. This is usually caused by spasms of blood vessels in the brain (commonly called a migraine). Migraine headaches are often associated with these flashes of light, but not always.