What Are Flashes and Floaters?

Have you ever seen flashes of light, stars, or streaks that aren’t really there? A few of these flashes are seen by everyone from time to time. Usually you see them in one eye at a time. Flashes are often caused by the gel filling inside of your eye, called the vitreous, pulling on the retina. The retina is a membrane that lines the inside of your eye.

Floaters look like dark specks, clouds, threads, or spider webs moving through your eyesight. Most people see them once in a while. Floaters may be pieces of gel or other material floating inside your eye. They are usually harmless.

Side view cross section of eye showing vitreous shrinking and pulling on retina.

Side view cross section of eye showing vitreous shrinking and floaters.

Who gets flashes?

As you age or if you are nearsighted, you are more likely to see flashes. Nearsightedness is when you have fuzzy distance vision. Sometimes, flashes are a sign of other eye problems that need care.

Who gets floaters?

The older you get, the more likely you’ll notice floaters. Floaters can also be caused by an eye injury or surgery. People who are very nearsighted may get more floaters. If floaters appear suddenly or greatly increase in number, see your healthcare provider. This may be a sign of an eye problem.