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Flashers and Floaters: What They Are and How They’re Caused

By David Gross on September 30, 2014


A middle-aged bespectacled man, smiling and looking as though he can see the world quite clearlyAt Deen-Gross Eye Centers, we offer a comprehensive range of eye care services, from basic eye exams and vision care to world-class LASIK and cataract surgery. We pride ourselves in being a one-stop shop for all of our patients’ eye care needs, whatever they may be. We are equally proud of our devotion to educating our patients about the conditions that affect their eyes and the options available for treating them. Among the most common conditions that our patients experience are so-called flashers and floaters.

At our acclaimed eye care clinic in Merrillville, flashers and floaters are diagnosed and treated with the utmost care. We take the time to help our patients to understand exactly what these visual anomalies are and how they are caused. Should you be concerned by flashers and floaters?

What are flashers and floaters?

“Flashers,” or “flashes,” are referred to as such because they appear to be flashes of light streaking across the field of vision, similar to lightning flashing across the sky. They can also appear as brief flickers of light or as continuous waves for minutes at a time.

“Floaters,” on the other hand, refer to the small spots, specks, clouds, dots, lines, circles, and cobweb-like images that drift across the visual field and are especially apparent when you are staring at a clear, white surface. While these images appear to be in front of the eye, or on the eye’s surface, they are actually tiny clusters of cells that are floating around in the vitreous, or the clear, gel-like substance that fills our eyes.

What causes flashers?

Flashers are caused by a disturbance to the retina, which transmits an impulse to the brain. The brain interprets this impulse as light of some sort, whether a brief flash or a steadier wave, depending on the nature of the disruption.

The most common causes of flashers are:

  • Retinal tears
  • Retinal detachment
  • Trauma to the retina
  • A blow to the head (which is where the phrase “seeing stars” comes from
  • Digitalis toxicity, due to high levels of digitalis in the body or decreased tolerance to the drug

Because flashers are generally a warning sign that something is wrong with the retina, professional help should be sought right away, especially if you experience several flashers consecutively or flashers that last for minutes at a time.

What causes floaters?

Floaters are caused by the shrinkage of the vitreous. As the vitreous shrinks, strands begin to form, casting shadows on the retina. These shadows appear to us as floaters. Floaters affect roughly one-fourth of all people by the time they reach 60 and two-thirds of all people by the time they reach 80. In most cases, floaters are harmless, but they can indicate the onset of retinal disease. You should seek professional help if you suddenly notice new floaters, especially if they are accompanied by flashers and worsening central vision.

Learn More about Flashers and Floaters

To learn more about flashers and floaters, or to schedule your comprehensive eye exam, please contact Dean-Gross Eye Centers today.

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