Flashes & Floaters

Why Do We Experience Flashes & Floaters?


Vitreous is a clear gel that fills the back compartment of the eye, between the back of the lens and the back wall of the eye. The vitreous gel starts off crystal clear when we are young and then gradually becomes less clear as the gel condenses when we age. When the gel does condense, you may experience shadowy dots, lines, or cobwebs that float by, especially when seen against a bright background such as the sky or a white wall. The term “floater” is used because as the head or eye turns, the gel moves and the less transparent, condensed gel appears to dart by or float across your field of view. It is common for people to experience floaters by the time they reach their 30s.

When people reach their 60s or 70s, they may experience a sudden change in their floaters because the vitreous begins to liquefy and shrink. The back part of the gel will suddenly begin to separate from the back wall of the eye and move forward. The condensed areas become visible when they move into the middle of the eye and the back surface of the gel may appear shadowy or hazy, temporarily in the line of sight.

If you have new floaters or are experiencing flashes of light, contact us to schedule your eye exam.


For some, as part of the gel moves forward, some of it remains stubbornly adhered to the back wall of the eye. In these instances, as the eye or head is turned and the gel moves, the part that is stuck will tug on the retina and a flash of light will be seen briefly, usually off to the side.

The flashes are seen when the gel first begins to move forward and the new floaters are seen. At first, these flashes may be seen numerous times a day but usually they decrease in frequency over the first several weeks and then eventually stop.


Although rare, in some patients, the retinal tugging that is causing the flashes of light could lead to a tear in the retina. The tears usually occur in the periphery where the gel may be tugging on the retina. If a tear occurs, then fluid inside the eye can travel through the tear and track between the retina and the back wall of the eye, separating the retina off the back wall of the eye. This is called a retinal detachment. Wherever the retina is detached, there is no vision. Since this usually occurs first in the periphery, it may be experienced as a total loss of vision in the peripheral field of view as if a curtain is being pulled across the vision from the side, and it may advance across the center of vision.



If a tear is noticed during your examination, a simple in-office procedure can be performed to weld the tear so that fluid cannot track through it, leading to a detachment. This procedure is quick and painless, with minimal recovery time.

If a retinal detachment is noticed, surgery will need to be performed to reattach the retina. The sooner a retinal detachment is noticed, the better chances for excellent vision recovery. If you have any changes in your vision, give our office a call as soon as possible.