Skip to Content

Eye Flashes and Floaters Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

As people get older, they often experience more eye floaters and flashes.

Floaters in the eyes are tiny clumps of gel that "float" across your field of vision. Eye flashes look like little lightning streaks.

In most cases, they're not a cause for concern. But sometimes they can be signs of a severe problem.

Learn more about:

Contact Us

For more information, or to make an appointment with an ophthalmologist, please contact the UPMC Vision Institute at 412-647-2200 or 1-800-446-3797.

Request an appointment online.

What Are Eye Floaters and Flashes?

Floaters are harmless specks, strands, or cobwebs that move across your field of vision. These small blotches usually are more noticeable in bright light or when looking at a white background.

Nearly everyone has eye floaters at some point in their lives.

They're common for people over 50 as a natural part of aging. But many young people notice floaters too.

Although eye floaters are normal, a sudden increase can signal a more serious problem.

The sudden appearance of large floaters may be a sign of posterior vitreous detachment. That's the separation of the gel-like fluid from the back wall of the eye.

Flashes, or bursts of light, can occur when the retina gets damaged. The retina is part of the eye that collects and sends information about light to the brain.

These flashes are the retina's warning that there may be a hole, tear, or detachment. In this case, you'll have blurred vision.

Flashes also can occur as a side effect of migraine headaches, but they don't cause blurred vision.

Are floaters or flashes in the eye serious?

Floaters in the eye often aren't serious.

When they come on suddenly or are more intense than usual, they may signal a bigger problem. If this happens, see an eye doctor right away so they can determine the cause.

Back to top. 

What Are the Main Causes of Eye Floaters?

You may wonder what causes eye floaters. Eye floaters start in the vitreous, a clear, gel-like substance that fills the inside of the eye.

As you age, strands of the gel attach to each other and float inside your eyes. When light strikes these strands, they form shadows, and you see them as floaters.

But sometimes, other eye problems can cause floaters.

More serious causes include:

  • Eye infections.
  • Injuries to the eye.
  • Swelling in the eye.
  • Bleeding in the eye.
  • A retinal tear.
  • retinal detachment.
  • A vitreous detachment.

Can stress cause floaters?

You may notice more eye floaters during times of stress.

It's unclear whether stress causes more floaters to appear or whether you see them because you're stressed.

One South Korean study showed that aging caused floaters, but psychological stress aggravated symptoms.

Back to top.

What Are the Risk Factors and Complications of Eye Floaters?

Eye floaters and flashes risk factors

Risk factors for eye floaters and flashes include:

Complications of eye floaters

Most floaters are harmless, though they might feel annoying.

They don't lead to other diseases or conditions.

Back to top.

Eye Floaters Symptoms and Diagnosis

    What are the warning signs and symptoms of eye floaters?

    Floaters often look like small shapes that move or wiggle across your field of vision. They move as your eyes move. If you try to look at them directly, they seem to move away.

    You may notice floaters more if you look at something bright. Some people notice eye floaters when they stare at a bright white paper or a blue sky.

    You should see an eye doctor right away if you notice:

    • A sudden appearance of new floaters.
    • Floaters that appear with bright flashes of light.
    • A blurry area in your side or central vision.
    • A dark shadow that looks like a curtain covers part of your vision.

    How do doctors diagnose eye floaters?

    Flashes and floaters are common reasons for people to visit the eye doctor.

    To find the cause of floaters or flashes, your eye doctor will:

    • Give you drops to widen or dilate your pupil (the dark part of your eye).
    • Do a thorough exam of your retina and look for floaters.
    • Press on your eyelids if they suspect retinal tears or other serious causes.

    Back to top.

    How Do You Treat Eye Flashes and Floaters?

    Treatment will depend on what's causing them.

    Floaters do not go away for many people. In time, gravity will push them to the bottom of the eye.

    Any flashes caused by retinal damage should stop once they've treated the problem.

    The experts at UPMC Vision Institute can diagnose and treat severe floaters.

    We have the latest in high-tech equipment and training. We also take part in clinical trials for a range of eye diseases and issues.

    How do I get rid of floaters in my eye?

    Floaters often come and go on their own.

    Unless they're causing you problems reading, you don't need to get rid of them. If they interfere with your daily life, talk to your eye doctor about the benefits and risks of a vitrectomy.

    Back to top.

    Make an Appointment at the UPMC Vision Institute

    To see a UPMC eye expert about floaters or flashes, call 412-647-2200 or 1-800-446-3797.

    Last reviewed by a UPMC medical professional on 2023-10-11.