Floaters, Flashes, and Spots

Eye floaters and spots are deposits of various sizes and shapes that seem to swim or "float" across vision. Everyone describes these visual symptoms differently; for some, the floaters resemble annoying gnats flying around their face, for others, it is more like tiny squiggles or cobwebs in their field of vision.

For the most part, floaters and flashes are harmless. However, they can also be a symptom of a serious eye condition like retinal detachment. If you suddenly start seeing flashes, floaters, or spots, make an appointment to see a vision specialist.

What are floaters, flashes, and spots

Floaters are clumps of undissolved gel particles that collect in the vitreous fluid of the eye. These groups of cells can take on shapes of different sizes. When we see floaters, we are not actually seeing the groups of cells; we are seeing the shadows that they cast on the retina.

Both spots and floaters come and go with eye movement. They become particularly pronounced when seen against a bright or clear background.

Symptoms of floaters, flashes, and spots

The most common sign of eye floaters include: 

  • Small objects floating in the field of vision 
  • Floating objects and/or spots accompanied by a flash of light 
  • Floating objects in vision accompanied by a headache 
  • Loss of peripheral vision

Eye floaters, flashes, and spots become more common with age. The appearance of flashes and floaters can be alarming, especially if they come into view suddenly. Make sure to see a doctor if the floaters continue, especially if you are over the age of 50.

Causes of floaters, flashes, and spots

The most common cause of eye floaters and spots is a posterior vitreous detachment, which occurs when the vitreous gel pulls away from the back of the eye. Flashes are caused by vitreous gel rubbing or pulling on the retina. They may also occur after a blow to the head (think "seeing stars").

In some cases, flashes are a side effect of a migraine, which is a spasm of blood vessels in the brain. Floaters and flashes may also be related to or caused by the following: 

  • Cataract surgery
  • Nearsightedness 
  • Diabetes 
  • CMV retinitis 
  • Laser eye surgery 
  • Eye infections

Treatment of floaters, flashes, and spots

In most cases, eye floaters and flashes are harmless and tend to fade over time, however, the sudden and persistent appearance of floaters and flashes can be indicative of a serious eye health concern like a retinal tear or detachment.

There is no specific treatment for eye floaters and flashes, but they can be reduced or eliminated by treating the underlying condition that is causing them to appear. There are several ways to fix a detached retina, including laser surgery. Medication can help to alleviate some of the symptoms associated with migraines.


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