What are floaters?

Floaters appear like small specks, dots, circles, lines or cobwebs in your visual field. They seem to be in front of your eye but they are actually floating inside. Floaters are minute clumps of gel or cells inside the vitreous that can be found in your eye. What you then see are the shadows these clumps cast on your retina which help produce a clear image.

Floaters are most noticeable when looking at a plain object, like a blank wall or a blue sky.

With age, our vitreous starts to thicken and shrink. Sometimes clumps or strands form in the vitreous. If the vitreous pulls away from the back of the eye, it is called a posterior vitreous detachment. Floaters usually happen with a posterior vitreous detachment but can occur without a posterior vitreous detachment occurring.

They are not serious, and they tend to fade or go away over time. Severe floaters can be removed by surgery, but this is seldom necessary.

You are more likely to get floaters if you:

  • are nearsighted (you need glasses to see at distance)
  • have had eye surgery
  • have had eye inflammation (swelling)

What are flashes?

Flashes appear like flashing lights or lightning streaks in your visual field. You might see flashes on and off for weeks, or even months. Flashes happen when the vitreous rubs or pulls on your retina.

As people age, it is common to see flashes occasionally.

Flashes and migraines

Sometimes people have light flashes that look like jagged lines or heat waves. These can appear in one or both eyes and may last up to 20 minutes. This type of flash may be caused by a migraine.

When you get a headache after these flashes, it is called a “migraine headache.” But sometimes you only see the light flash without having a headache. This is called an “ophthalmic migraine” or “migraine without headache.”

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