What are flashes and floaters?
Floaters look like small, dark spots or flecks that appear to move around the eye. They are more common if you are myopic (short-sighted) or if you have had eye surgery such as cataract surgery. Flashes look like random flashes of light in the eye, often in an arc shape in your peripheral vision, and more obvious at night or in low light levels. They are usually as a result of the movement of the vitreous jelly which fills the eyeball and is attached to the retina at the back of the eye.
Should you worry about flashes and floaters?
Both are very common, especially in older people, and more often than not they are nothing to worry about. If they are bothersome, dark glasses have been found to minimise the presence of floaters and you can discuss options with your optometrist. When floaters are new they are at their most obvious but, with time, they become smaller and we learn to ignore them.
However occasionally flashes and floaters can be a sign of retinal detachment, a condition which requires urgent attention. You should contact your optometrist for advice if you experience the following:
- a sudden increase in floaters, especially if combined with flashing lights
- a large floater that you haven’t noticed before.
If you experience either of the following:
- a shadow, often called a curtain effect, spreading across your vision in one eye
- flashes and floaters which appear after you have had a blow to the eye,
then you should seek advice immediately from an optometrist and if one isn’t available you must visit another medical professional, such as your A & E department urgently. See our page on Emergency Eye Care for further information on what to do if you notice experience any of these symptoms.
For more information on flashes and floaters the College of Optometrists has produced this informative video.