Flashes and Floaters Explained

Flashes and floaters are experienced as flashes of light or floating black spots in your eyes.  Should you be concerned? Expert optometrists from Infocus independent opticians in London answer your FAQs below…

Q: What are floaters and flashes?

A: Floaters are miniscule groups of cells or proteins that drift within the vitreous jelly inside your eye. As light passes through your eye these clusters cast shadows against your retina and are experienced as dark spots or strands in your vision. They tend to be more noticeable in bright conditions or against plain surfaces, as they drift whenever you move your eyes.

Flashes are flashing lights in eyes experienced when loosened vitreous jelly tugs on your retina.

Q: What are the causes?

A: One of the most typical causes is ‘posterior vitreous detachment’ which occurs when the vitreous jelly that fills the inside of your eyeball shrinks and gradually loosens from the inside surface of your eye.

This is a natural part of aging, so is a common occurrence in those over 50. People who are very short-sighted or near-sighted, have undergone cataract surgery or suffered from an eye injury, are also more likely to experience floaters.

However, if these flashes or floating black spots in your eyes appear suddenly, they could also be symptoms of something more serious, like a retinal tear.

Q: Should I be worried?

A: Both eye floaters and flashes are common and in the majority of cases are harmless and don’t require treatment. However, they can sometimes be a symptom of sight threatening problems within your eye, such as retinal detachment.

This is caused when the retina pulls away and detaches from the back of your eye.  This stops signals being sent between your eye and your brain and, if left untreated, can result in permanent loss of vision.

Retinal detachment is painless, so it’s important to stay vigilant to warning symptoms which include a sudden increase in the number or floaters or flashes, a darkening of vision on one side, or a rapid decline in sharp vision. So, if your symptoms reflect the above, you should go to the Western Eye Hospital near our practice in Marylebone to get seen immediately.

Q: How can you treat flashes and floaters?

A: Although flashes and floaters can be irritating initially, your brain usually adapts to ignore them. While you get used to them, you might consider minimising the effects by wearing shades in bright conditions.

Some patients seek out treatment, however many ‘cures’ aren’t clinically proven and the risks to your vision can outweigh the inconvenience of learning to live with them.

Huda – one of our ophthalmic opticians at Infocus – is accredited with the Minor Eye Conditions Scheme (MECS), so is qualified to see patients for emergency NHS-funded appointments for all patients registered to a local GP if they notice a increase in the number flashes and floaters or think they have worsened over time. This accreditation also means she’s able to diagnose and prescribe treatment, if necessary.

However, if you experience a retinal tear or detachment, you’ll require immediate medical attention. The earlier the tear is detected, the more likely your ophthalmologist can stop the retina detaching using various methods. If the retina has already become detached, you will require surgery.

If you’re worried about floaters or flashing lights in eyes, book a consultation with our highly qualified ophthalmic optician so we can keep a track of your existing symptoms and advise on whether they could be a cause for concern.  Contact us either online or by giving us a ring on 0207 224 7400.