Floaters, Spots, and Flashes

Floaters, Spots, and Flashes

What are floaters?

Floaters (or spots) are those blobs in your vision that you sometimes see when you look at a white wall.  They are the result of particles and impurities within the vitreous (the crystal clear gel-like substance that fills the inside of your eyeball) casting shadows on the retina.

Floaters can be annoying but in the majority of instances are harmless.  However they may also be indicative of eye disease or other health conditions and should be checked by your optometrist.

Are floaters common?

Most people see floaters some time during their life.  As you get older, the thick fluid close to the retina becomes more liquid.  This allows particles to move freely and become more visible.

What do floaters look like?

Floaters vary greatly in appearance.  Some are only just noticable while others may be particularly disturbing drifting across your field of vision.  They may appear as spots, thread-like strands, fine cobwebs or just as dull shadows.  The shadows cast by floaters seem especially obvious when looking at the sky or a white page.  In fact, they are always present, but are sometimes more noticeable.

How do I know if I have floaters?

Because floaters move as the eye moves, they dart away when you try to look at them.  Your optometrist is trained at detecting floaters and will tell you about them during an eye examination.  Sometimes your optometrist will detect floaters that are not visible to you.

Can floaters cause blindness?

Though commonly observed and usually normal, in around 10-20% of cases the sudden development of floaters may indicate a more serious eye problem.  If you get an increase in floaters, vivid flashing lights, a curtain-like shadow or large black cobweb-like images appears phone Canon Street Optometrists immediately to book an urgent appointment.

What about flashing lights?

In 10-20% of cases these flashes may be an early sign of serious eye disease.  Whether young or old, an urgent eye examination is necessary if flashing lights suddenly occur to ensure there is no sign of changes that might threaten your eyesight.

Can migraines affect vision?

Yes.  A range of visual disturbances are associated with migraines.  Signs of a migraine can include shimmering lights, wavy lines and a restriction in fields of vision.  Symptoms can last between 15-30 minutes and are usually (but not always) followed by a severe headache and feelings of nausea.  Visual symptoms similar to those preceding a migraine headache may also occur without a headache especially from the age of 40 onwards and are often harmless, but can also occur when a person has a disease of the vascular system.  This should be investigated if there has been no migraine prior to the age of 40.


If it is found that the floaters or flashing lights are causing changes to the eye that could potentially threaten your sight, our optometrists will arrange a speedy assessment and management of this by an eye specialist (ophthalmologist).  Eye specialists have a variety of treatments available to them including laser treatment and surgery to repair the problem and ensure you continue to keep your precious sense of sight.