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Bascom Palmer Eye Institute

Flashes and floaters

Flashes and Floaters

Flashes are a brief perception of light in the field of vision. Floaters are opacities in the vitreous gel that cast shadows on the retina. Floaters are typically perceived as small black dots or spider webs gliding across the vision.

As a person ages, the vitreous gel thins and separates from the retina, leading to the sudden appearance of floaters and flashes. This is a common, and typically harmless condition. However, in a minority of cases, the vitreous gel can pull on the retina as it separates, causing a new retinal tear or detachment. For this reason, any symptoms of new flashes or floaters require an urgent dilated examination by an ophthalmologist.

Diagnosis

Your ophthalmologist will exam your retina through dilated pupils with an ophthalmoscope.

Treatment

In most cases of vitreous gel separation, the floaters become less noticeable over time and the patient learns to ignore them. Surgery is not recommended unless a retinal tear or detachment develops.