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Flashes & Floaters

What are Floaters?

You may sometimes see small specks or clouds moving in your field of vision. These are called floaters. You can often see them when looking at a plain background, like a blank wall or blue sky. Floaters are actually tiny clumps of gel or balls inside the vitreous, the clear gel-like fluid that fills the inside of your eye.  

While these objects look like they are in front of your eye, they are actually floating inside it. What you see are the shadows they cast on the retina, the layer of cells lining the back of the eye that senses light and allows you to see. Floaters can appear as different shapes such as little dots, circles, lines, clouds, or cobwebs.  


When people reach middle age, the vitreous gel may start to thicken or shrink, forming clumps or strands inside the eye. The vitreous gel pulls away from the back wall of the eye, causing a posterior vitreous detachment. This is a common cause of floaters. These detachments are more common in people who:

  • are nearsighted
  • have undergone cataract operations
  • have had YAG laser surgery for the eye
  • have had inflammation inside the eye

The retina can tear if the shrinking vitreous gel pulls away from the wall of the eye. This sometimes causes a small amount of bleeding in the eye that may appear as new floaters. A torn retina is always a serious problem since it can lead to a retinal detachment. You should see your ophthalmologist as soon as possible if:

  • even one new floater appears suddenly
  • you see sudden flashes of light

When the vitreous gel rubs or pulls on the retina, you may see what looks like flashing lights or lightning streaks. You may have experienced this same sensation if you have ever been hit in the eye and seen “stars”
The flashes of light can appear off and on for several weeks or months. As we grow older, it is more common to experience flashes. If you notice the sudden appearance of light flashes, you should contact your ophthalmologist immediately in case the retina has been torn.  

  • flashing lights – with the movement of the eyes in a dark room
  • New or different floaters
  • Increase in floaters
  • A shadow in your peripheral vision
  • A grey curtain moving across your vision
  • Decreased vision

These symptoms may not mean that you have a retinal detachment, however, you should contact your ophthalmologist as soon as possible. 

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