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Flashes, Floaters and Facts

By Claire Thorne
(Resident Optometrist at Bayfields Horsforth)

"I've noticed dark patches floating in my vision, sometimes there's a flash too!"

A phrase that will make any Optometrist sit up and listen. Flashes and floaters (or F+F as Optometrists call them for short) can be caused by a number of things and are normally down to natural aging changes in the eye. However we would always recommend an eye exam, as occasionally F+F can lead to more serious eye conditions, but thankfully this is very rare!   

Why do I get flashes and floaters?

Experiencing flashes and floaters is a relatively ‘normal’ result of ageing eyes affecting more than 75% of over 65’sNormally floaters occur when the ‘jelly’ inside the eye separates into a watery fluid and stringy collagen fibres.  Sometimes the jelly may completely peel away (called a Posterior Vitreous Detachment), when this happens you may see a large ring-shaped floater. When the jelly peels it may pull on the retina (layer of nerves at the back of the eye) and cause flashes, as well as floaters.

What do Flashes and Floaters look like?

Floaters and floaters are seen when part of the jelly inside your eye comes into your view. If this happens to you, you may see this jelly as little black spots or ‘cobweb-like’ strands ‘floating’ through your vision. Alternatively, you may notice the jelly as white or colour flashes at the edge of their vision; Flashes. Regardless of how you the ‘jelly’ appears to you, it is common that both flashes and floaters will only affect one eye at a time.

Flashes And Floaters July 2015

Symptoms to look out for

  • Sudden increase of floaters (normally too many to count), particularly with flashing lights.

  • A new large floater.

  • A shadow spreading across the vision of one eye.

  • New floaters or flashing lights after a blow to the head.

  • F+F should not be confused with visual migraines which can cause flashes or zig-zags of light in both eyes at the same time. You can check by covering the eyes one a time and see if the light disappears.


So, what should I do?  

Usually floaters and Posterior Vitreous Detachments don’t require any further treatment, but occasionally if you suddenly notice many small floaters or one large floater it may be a sign of something more serious, such as a Retinal Detachment. A Retinal Detachment affects just 1 in 10,000 people as the result of the retina pulling away from the back for the eye causing a shadow or blank area in your vision. If your Optometrist suspects a retinal detachment they will refer you to you hospital eye department for further investigation.

If you’ve not had the symptoms before it can be quite alarming. Whether this is something new or a regular occurrence for you, it is always recommend getting booked in for an Eye Exam as soon as possible to get it all checked.  NB: During the appointment your Optometrist is likely to put drops into your eyes to open the pupils wider to get a good look; this means you won’t be able to drive for a few hours after the appointment. It may be wise to take a chaperone.


To find out more about Flashes, Floaters and 'cobwebs' click here.
To read a Bayfields Opticians client's experience of Retinal Detachment click here. 


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