Flashes and floaters and Eyes, Oh My!


Have you ever seen flashes of light or weird little floaters in your vision? Wonder what causes them, and if they’re something to worry about?  Well wonder no more my friends!

Your eye is composed of a gel-like substance called the vitreous that helps maintain the shape of the eye and acts as a “shock absorber” to protect the fragile retina. As we get older, the vitreous begins to liquefy and deteriorate, and the contents of the vitreous clump together. These clumps of vitreous can appear in your vision as “spots,” “cobwebs,” or “floaters” and may vary in size and location. These floaters tend to appear as moving spots in your vision and can come and go throughout the day.

Floaters are quite common and usually harmless, but they may lead to other more serious conditions, such as retinal tears or detachments. It is important to see an eye care professional immediately if you experience any of the following:

  • sudden onset of floaters
  • loss of vision that accompanies the floaters
  • numerous or large floaters
  • floaters associated with trauma to the eyes or head
  • a sudden increase (or “shower”) of floaters
  • flashes of light

Flash of light are a little more worrisome.  They are caused by stimulation of the retina, which can be due to many things:

  • a retinal tear or detachment
  • a posterior vitreous detachment (common)
  • migraine headaches (common)
  • rapid eye movements (very common)
  • retinal infections or inflammations (rare)
  • central nervous system disorders (rare)

If you see any flashes of light it is very important to see your eye doctor right away to make sure you don’t have a retinal tear or detachment; if left untreated they can result in vision loss. 

If you have any concerns about your vision, you can make an appointment with Student Health Optometry Services – we’re happy to check you out.

Tia Tucker, OD (Ohio State College of Optometry Alum)

Julia Geldis, OD (Staff Optometrist, SHS)