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Flashes & Floaters

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Small specks or clouds moving within your field of vision are referred to as floaters. Floaters can appear as little dots, circles, lines, clouds, or other different shapes. Flashing lights or lightning streaks are called flashes. Almost like the “stars” seen when one is hit in the eye or on the head, flashes can appear on and off for several weeks or months.

Causes of Flashes & Floaters

Floaters are tiny cell clumps inside the vitreous (clear, gel-like fluid inside your eye). Flashes are experienced when the vitreous gel inside the eye pulls on the retina. With age, flashes and floaters become more common.
As we grow older, the vitreous gel may begin to shrink. This forms the tiny clumps of cells inside the eye that we see as floaters. In addition, the vitreous gel pulls away from the back wall of the eye, sometimes resulting in a posterior vitreous detachment.

Signs and Symptoms

Any new symptoms of flashes and floaters should be reported to your optometrist. Patients over the age of 45, have substantial nearsightedness, have had an injury to the eyes or head, should contact the optometrist immediately if new instances of flashes or floaters occur.
Symptoms and signs include:

  • The sudden appearance of flashes
  • A increase in size and number of floaters
  • A dark, shadow-like area in the periphery of your field of vision (rare)
  • The sensation of a curtain being drawn over your eyes (extreme, rare)
  • A decrease in vision


Flashes and floaters can be detected through a clinical examination of the eye by the optometrist. Additional testing may be required if the cause of the symptoms is not detected during the clinical examination. The optometrist may order that an ultrasound of the eye be completed, in addition to other testing or imaging.

Treating Flashes and Floaters

For most flashes and floaters, no treatment is required. Over time, floaters will fade and become less bothersome to the patient. It should be noted that most floaters are harmless. Surgery is almost never required.

Laser Eye Surgery

In most cases, flashes and floaters are harmless and fade. However, vitreous floaters may be a result from a retinal tear in the eye. If the retinal tear is not treated, it may detach from the back of the eye. A detached retina may be treated by laser eye surgery.
It is important to consult your optometrist and complete an eye examination to determine whether or not you require laser eye surgery.

Written by Dr. Kent Prete

An active member of the Canadian Association of Optometrists, the Alberta Association of Optometrists, and the Alberta College of Optometrists, Dr. Prete lives his passion every day when he sees his patients. Dr. Prete has spoken at over 100 professional events over the last almost 20 years. A keen educator and confident doctor, Dr. Prete is nearly as passionate about educating other eye care professionals as he is about caring for and educating his patients!
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