Flashes and Floaters (PVD)

What are Flashes and Floaters?

Flashes: As you age, the vitreous gel within your eye shrinks. When it does, it pulls on the retina, causing you to see what appears as little flashes of light within your eye. In themselves, these flashes are harmless. But the pulling on the retina can lead to a retinal tear or even to eventual detachment of the retina.
Floaters: Floaters may resemble dark specks, clouds, threads or spider webs moving through your field of vision. Most of your eye is filled with a clear gelatin-like substance called the vitreous humor. This fluid is mostly water but also contains connective tissue fibers, which actually float around inside the vitreous. These are the floaters that most people see occasionally. As you age, this connective tissue can loosen up – and some of the fibers adhere to each other to create bigger fibers. When that happens, the floaters become more noticeable. If the vitreous pulls away from the back of the eye, it is called a posterior vitreous detachment (PVD). They are not serious and tend to go away or fade over time. You are more likely to get floaters if you are nearsighted, have had surgery for cataracts or have had swelling inside the eye.

When Flashes and Floaters are serious

While floaters and flashes are common, they are sometimes a cause for concern. You should consult your doctor if:

  • You notice a lot of new floaters
  • You have a lot of flashes
  • You see a shadow in your peripheral (side) vision
  • A gray curtain covers part of your vision

When floaters and flashes appear suddenly in one eye, you should have that eye checked as soon as possible. These could be symptom of a torn or detached retina. This is a serious condition that needs to be treated.