Floaters and flashes of light are common eye symptoms that may or may not indicate a serious vision problem. Many people describe floaters as specks, clouds or cobwebs floating around in their central or side vision, and describe flashes as brief, bright spots of light or seeing stars.
Floaters are small particles of protein or other matter trapped within the jelly-like fluid that fills the inside of the eye, called the vitreous humor. These can form at birth or as the vitreous begins to change from a gel to a liquid as part of the aging process. Certain eye diseases or injury can cause floaters to appear. Floaters are very common in individuals who are nearsighted or have undergone eye surgery.
Flashes of light may occur when the vitreous humor thickens and begins to tug on the retina causing small tears or holes. Flashes of light that appear in waves or as jagged lines in one or both eyes lasting as long as 20 minutes may be caused by spasm of blood vessels in the brain, known as an ocular migraine.
Floaters appear as specks of various shapes and sizes, as individual spots or threadlike strands. Most floaters are not harmful and rarely limit your vision. However, a sudden increase in floaters can indicate a serious vision problem.
The onset of new flashes of light can be an indicator of serious vision threatening problems such as the beginning of a retinal detachment. Your ophthalmologist should be contacted immediately.
Floaters and flashes are detected during a comprehensive eye examination with your ophthalmologist. Your eye doctor will determine if what you are seeing is harmless or if your symptoms indicate a more serious problem.