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Floaters & Flashes

You may sometimes see small specks or clouds moving in your field of vision. These are called floaters. You can often see them when looking at a plain background, like a blank wall or blue sky. Floaters are actually tiny clumps of cells or material inside the vitreous, the clear gel-like fluid that fills the inside of your eye.

While these objects look like they are in front of your eye, they are actually floating inside it. What you see are the shadows they cast on the retina, the layer of cells lining the back of the eye that senses light and allows you to see. Floaters can appear as different shapes, such as little dots, circles, lines, clouds or cobwebs. As we grow older, it is more common to experience floaters and flashes as the vitreous gel changes with age, gradually pulling away from the inside surface of the eye.

When the vitreous gel pulls on the retina, you may see what look like flashing lights or lightning streaks. These are called flashes. You may have experienced this same sensation if you have ever been hit in the eye and seen "stars." The flashes of light can appear off and on for several weeks or months.  Flashes can sometimes lead to a tear in the retina. A retinal tear frequently needs to be treated with a laser. Left untreated, a retinal tear allows fluid to track behind the retina, separating it from the wall of the eye called a retinal detachment, which is a vision-threatening condition. So, new flashes and floaters require an urgent call to your eye doctor for a thorough retinal examination.