Flashes and Floaters

What are floaters and flashes?

Floaters are more common than flashes, and look like small, dark spots or strands that float in front of your eyes. Floaters are very common and normally harmless. They are more common if you are short-sighted or as you get older. Some people notice they see flashes of light. These can be due to the movement of the gel inside the eye. Very occasionally, flashes or an increase in floaters can be a sign of retinal detachment, which needs treating as soon as possible. This is more common as you get older, or in people who are short-sighted or have had eye surgery.

If you get any of the following symptoms and you cannot contact your optometrist, you should get urgent attention, ideally from an eye casualty department at the hospital. It is important that you get advice as soon as you can if you have:

  • a sudden increase in floaters, particularly if you also notice flashing lights
  • a new, large, floater
  • a change in floaters or flashing lights after you have had a direct blow to your eye
  • a shadow spreading across the vision of one of your eyes.