Eye Floaters and Flashes: When Are They Serious?
If you see a speck in your vision that moves when you look around, it is probably a floater.
Flashes are just what it sounds like: flashes of light in your vision. Some people describe them as “seeing stars.”
What causes eye floaters and flashes?
Your eye is filled with a clear gel called the vitreous. Changes in this gel cause most eye floaters.
You see flashes when the vitreous gel rubs against the retina or pulls on it. This can be easier to see in the dark or when you move your eyes.
Do eye floaters and flashes need treatment?
Not always. Many floaters are harmless and your brain eventually gets used to them, but you should have an eye doctor check any new floaters.
See your eye doctor within 24 hours if:
- You see flashes of light
- A floater is interfering with your vision
Are eye floaters and flashes serious?
They can be. Seeing flashes of light or getting a new floater or many floaters can be a sign that the vitreous gel is pulling on your retina. The retina is the tissue at the back of the eye that receives images. A torn or damaged retina can cause vision loss, and this vision loss is sometimes permanent.
If vitreous gel goes through a tear in the retina and gets underneath it, this can push the retina out of its normal position on the back of the eye. Doctors call this “retinal detachment.” A retinal detachment is a very serious condition that is treated with surgery. But even then, doctors cannot always restore all the lost vision.
What should I do if I see flashes or a new floater?
Call your eye doctor. You should be seen by an eye doctor within 24 hours if you see flashes of light or have a new floater that affects your ability to see. Don’t wait! A complete, dilated eye exam is the only way to make sure you do not have a retinal tear.
Even if a new floater is not affecting your vision or seems small, you should have an eye doctor check it. Call your eye doctor and let them know you have a new floater.
You can reach Oregon Eye Specialists at 503-935-5580 or call any of our 10 convenient locations.
Warning signs with floaters and flashes
Warning signs of a retinal tear or detachment:
- Vision loss – Either less vision than normal or total vision loss
- Flashes of light – Like “seeing stars” or lightning
- Shadows in your peripheral (side) vision
- Something like a dark curtain across your vision
If you have any of these signs, call Oregon Eye Specialists at 503-935-5580 or call your primary care doctor.