• Katherine Ramirez

Flashers, Floaters, and Vitreous Detachments

Almost everyone occasionally experiences the sensation of spots floating in his or her field of vision. These spots usually come and go in very short order and are usually seen in the same eye and in the same part of the eye. Sometimes one can make them disappear by merely turning the head or moving the eyes about or blinking the eyes. As one grows older, the spots can become more frequent. When the spots are rather fuzzy in appearance and seem to be strung together with a web-like thread, they are called floaters.

Flashes are bright points of light that literally flash into the field of vision when the eyelids are closed. They are usually comprised of tiny dashes forming either an oval or a circle. Flashes come and go in an instant and normally occur in only one eye at a time. They are symptomatic of vitreous detachment or a serious eye disorder.

Both flashes and floaters can be harmless symptoms of aging eyes; or they can be indicators of a serious eye disorder, such as a torn part of the retina. The micro-thin membrane that covers three-fourths of the back of the eyeball and which contains millions of light-sensitive nerve cells. The retina can be compared to the film of a camera. It receives light rays reflected from images captured by the cornea and then focused on the retina with some fine-tuning by the inner lens of the eye. The nerve cells in the retina translate the images received into electrical impulses that are transmitted to the brain via the optic nerve. If all elements are healthy and functioning properly, the image created in the brain is sharp, clear, and true in color. However, any damage to the retina can result in image distortion or in partial or total loss of vision.


The center of the eye is filled with a clear, jelly-like fluid known as the vitreous humor or simply vitreous. With some people, small flecks of protein or other natural matter become trapped in the vitreous during the formation of the eye before birth. The particles remain in the vitreous during the person’s lifetime and are occasionally seen as spots or floaters. Spots and floaters can also be caused by the deterioration of the vitreous or the retina as part of the normal aging process.

When caused by these natural phenomena, spots and floaters rarely cause any loss of vision. However, even in a harmless state, they can be distracting and annoying, particularly when the affected person is reading or concentrating on some other vision function.

Spots and floaters can also be symptomatic of serious retinal problems that can be caused by injury to the head or eye. Such diseases as diabetic retinopathy or macular degeneration may bring about these spots and floaters. Any of these conditions can lead to a retinal tear or a retinal detachment, which is a much more serious situation. Either disorder can result in a partial or total loss of vision.


As one grows older, the vitreous humor that fills the center cavity of the eye begins a shrinking process. This causes the vitreous to pull away from the retina. This vitreous detachment process creates occasional bright bursts of light or flashes that are seen when the eyes are closed. In relatively rare cases, the detachment process can also result in a retinal tear. In such a case, the flashes may continue, and spots and floaters may also be seen. If no retinal damage occurs, the flashes will usually cease in a matter of days or weeks. This is a sign that the vitreous has fully detached itself from the retina. Some people will for years continue to see occasional flashes, which are caused by the “loose” vitreous “scraping” against the retina. This usually happens when the head is moved suddenly, such as when sitting up in bed in the morning or in other situations. Except when they are symptomatic of a torn retina, flashes, like most spots and floaters, are harmless indicators of an aging eye.


There is no viable treatment for any of these conditions themselves, but there is treatment for the serious eye disorders of which they might be symptomatic; retinal tears of retinal detachments.

A retinal tear can usually be successfully treated by a laser that “tacks” the tear back in place. The procedure takes only a few minutes to perform in the eye doctor’s office and is painless. The patient experiences no discomfort, only a series of bright flashes of light as the laser is activated.

It is vitally important that a retinal tear be repaired as soon as possible. It could develop into a retinal detachment that could lead to serious loss of vision. The treatment for a retinal detachment is basically the same as for a retinal tear, but the process is much more demanding and the results less promising.

As with all eye disorders, early detection leads to more effective treatment. Here are some signs to look for with respect to flashes and floaters that may be indicative of a serious eye problem:

1) Spots and floaters that suddenly increase in number and frequency and appear in parts of the eye where they have not been usually seen.

2) Flashes that appear frequently at an early age or flashes that appear at a later age but continue for a longer period than is normal; that is for several weeks.

A thorough exam is the best advice for anyone experiencing flashes, spots, or floaters at any time under any conditions. The examination will determine if these experiences are just indicators of normal aging eyes or symptomatic of a serious eye disorder. During the office visit, the eye doctor will look for signs of any other type of eye disorder that needs attention. Regular eye examinations are the secret to healthy eyes, preservation of vision, and a rewarding lifestyle at any age.

For more information about vision health, contact Baldwin Eye Care, LLC.

Call Baldwin Eye Care, LLC to schedule an appointment with your eye care professional. It’s important to seek a professional diagnosis to determine the correct cause of your symptoms.


Baldwin Eye Care LLC - Caring for your eyes, total I care health.

(608) 837-7325

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