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Flashes and Floaters

Flashing lights and floaters are very common symptoms as we get older, particularly in the over 50 age group.

Often people who have healthy eyes see floaters. They can appear as spots, lines or cobwebs, and will be more apparent if you look at a plain white wall or clear blue sky. As we age the clear solid jelly which we call the vitreous gel, which sits in the central cavity of the eye against the retina, starts to get more watery as we age. As a result of this, small fibres of collagen form, and it is these fibres that cast a shadow on the back of the eye and move around.

Flashing lights are a sensation that a person gets when they perceive a flashing light or a shimmering in their peripheral vision, often more noticeable in the dark. The flashes associated with migraine tend to be more shimmering or zig zag like typically lasting 15 to 30 minutes often associated with a headache but not always. Flashes can also occur when there is a tug on your retina at the back of your eye. This may happen when the vitreous gel becomes more watery, so the gel starts to shrink away from the back of the eye, and can “pull” on the retina. Because the vitreous gel detaches as a result of the gel becoming more watery, this is why flashing lights and floaters often occur together.

The vast majority of individuals will be found to have healthy eyes and will have had a Posterior Vitreous Detachment known as a PVD, however a small minority will have a more serious eye condition that requires urgent referral to an eye specialist. For this reason anyone experiencing flashes and floaters should seek an URGENT assessment, as the pulling in a few individuals may cause a retinal tear which can lead to retinal detachment.

Symptoms to look out for:

  • Flashes or floaters getting worse
  • A black shadow or curtain in vision
  • Sudden cloud of spots
  • Sudden loss in vision.

If you experience any of these symptoms it is important to get an assessment as soon as possible. If you have a retinal tear this can be repaired with a laser. If you have a retinal detachment then this involves a more serious operation.