What Causes Flashes and Floaters and What Can I do About Them?

Small, dark specks or spots or flashes of light that disrupt your field of vision can be irritating, making it hard to focus when reading or watching a movie or TV. What’s more, it might cause you to worry about your vision. 

The good news is that for most people, flashes and floaters aren’t serious. In fact, about two-thirds of all Americans eventually develop them. But since flashes and floaters do sometimes indicate an underlying issue, it’s important to address them with an eye specialist and have regular eye exams.

At Urban Eye Care in Seattle, Washington, we understand the frustration and concern that eye troubles, like flashes and floaters, can bring. Dr. Jennifer Andrews and our entire team are dedicated to meeting your vision needs. 

We’ve compiled this guide to help you understand what causes flashes and floaters and what can be done about them. Read on to learn more.

What are flashes and floaters?

Do you ever feel like you’re seeing a flash or streak of light in your eye? These are called flashes. There are different causes, but they can occur when fibers from the vitreous body — the jelly-like fluid in your eye that’s surrounded by a thin membrane — irritate or pull on one of your retinal nerve cells.

At some point in your life, you might also start to see small, dark flecks or wispy, thread-like strings that drift across your field of vision. Doctors call these floaters. Floaters are common, and the chances of developing them increase with age. 

There are several types of floaters that come about for different reasons. In general, however, floaters develop when fibers pull away from the vitreous body in the eye, and they aren’t usually harmful.

Should I see a doctor about flashes and floaters?

As long as floaters remain stable, there’s no cause for immediate concern. When floaters appear suddenly or grow in number or size, it’s important to schedule an appointment at Urban Eye Care as soon as possible. While uncommon, serious underlying conditions, such as tumors or diabetes, can cause floaters.

If you’re seeing flashes of light, it’s important to see Dr. Andrews immediately. Flashes can sometimes be explained by simple, harmless conditions, like ocular migraine, or a one-time injury to a nerve. However, flashes can also indicate more serious conditions, such as a retinal tear, retinal detachment, inflammation, injury, and infection.

What can be done about flashes and floaters?

The first step to treating flashes and floaters is to have a comprehensive eye exam. Dr. Andrews looks for problems and evaluates your overall eye health. If there’s any indication of an underlying problem, she works with you on appropriate next steps.

The best way to temporarily rid yourself of floaters and flashes is to move your eyes up and down. This creates movement in your eye’s fluid and can shift the flashes and floaters out of your field of vision. 

In more serious cases, Dr. Andrews may recommend laser or surgical treatments. For example, a vitrectomy removes the jelly-like fluid in your eye and replaces it with a synthetic alternative; vitreolysis, a laser treatment, can break up large floaters to make them less noticeable. 

As a general rule, protect your eyes by wearing sunglasses outside and eye protection when working with materials that could enter the eye. It’s also a good idea to take regular breaks from screens, like your phone or TV.

How can I learn more about flashes and floaters?

If you’re experiencing flashes or floaters, especially if they’re new or have changed, it’s important to schedule an appointment with a skilled eye doctor. Dr. Andrews listens to your questions and concerns and can help find a treatment plan that’s right for you.

For more help with flashes and floaters, call our Seattle office today or request an appointment online.

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