Both of these conditions occur at the back of eye and involve the vitreous fluid. The vitreous fluid is the transparent, colorless, gelatinous fluid that fills the space between the lens of the eye and the retina lining the back of the eye. Typically, sometime between the ages of 40-70 years, the vitreous begins to shrink and pulls away from the back of eye where it is attached to the retina. This process is called Posterior Vitreous Detachment (PVD) and it is a normal event.

Flashes are seen as a lightning streak or stars seen in the field of vision.

Floaters are moving little dark blobs, dots, circles, lines, clouds or cobwebs in the line of vision.

What causes Flashes and Floaters?

When the vitreous begins to shrink, there can be pulling and tugging at the nerve layer at the back of the eye (retina), causing “lightening streaks” (Flashes) in the field of vision. The Flashes can appear off and on for several months, but should begin to diminish over time. If you notice a very sudden appearance of light flashes, you should visit your ophthalmologist or optometrist immediately to check for a more serious condition like a retina tear. It is important not to ignore these sudden symptoms which can lead to serious complications and loss of vision.

Floaters are tiny clumps of gel or cells inside the vitreous. As the vitreous pulls away from the back of the eye, there can be an increase in the formation of these clumps or strands. You actually see the shadows or dark areas that these floating clumps inside your eye are casting on your retina. Floaters are more common for people who are nearsighted, have undergone a cataract operation, or have experienced inflammation inside the eye. Floaters are generally more annoying than serious. If a Floater gets in the way of clear vision, try moving your eyes, and looking up and down to move the floaters out of the way. Most Floaters fade over time and become less bothersome. You should see your eye doctor as soon as possible if floaters develop suddenly or if other symptoms develop like loss of side vision.

How are Flashes and Floaters treated?

The majority of time Flashes and Floaters are harmless. It is important to have a thorough examination to insure no retinal damage has occurred. It is expected that the floaters and flashes will slowly diminish over a several month period. With time most floaters tend to disappear. If new floaters appear in the future, they need to be examined again to determine if they are harmless or a symptom of retinal damage.

To learn more: Facts about Floaters and Flashes from the National Eye Institute