Floaters and flashes in the eyes

Dots and lines (floaters), or flashes of light in the eyes are common. They're not usually serious. They can affect anyone but are common in older people. You should only see an optician about them in certain situations (see below).

About floaters and flashes in the eyes

Floaters and flashes are usually harmless. If you sometimes see floaters – such as small dark dots, squiggly lines, rings or cobwebs flashes of light in your vision, it's not usually a sign of anything serious.

Especially if:

  • you've had them for a long time
  • they're not getting worse
  • your vision isn't affected

Flashes may stop by themselves and floaters often become less noticeable as you get used to them.

When to see an optician

Get an urgent optician appointment if:

  • floaters or flashes appear suddenly
  • floaters or flashes suddenly increase in number
  • you have a dark "curtain" or shadow moving across your vision
  • you also have blurred vision
  • you also have eye pain
  • floaters start after eye surgery or an eye injury

These could be signs of a serious problem with the back of your eye, which could permanently affect your vision if it's not treated quickly.

If you can't get an urgent appointment go to the nearest emergency department.

What happens at your appointment

A doctor or nurse will check your eyes and decide if you might need to see an eye doctor (ophthalmologist) for more tests or treatment.

You'll usually only need treatment if you have a problem that could affect your vision.

Causes of floaters and flashes

Lots of people, particularly older people, get floaters and flashes.

They're usually caused by a harmless process called posterior vitreous detachment (PVD), which happens as you get older.

Sometimes they can be caused by retinal detachment. This is a serious condition where a thin layer that sends signals to the brain (the retina) pulls away from the back of the eye. It can lead to permanent vision loss if not treated.

Floaters and flashes can also happen for no obvious reason.

The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.

For further information see terms and conditions.

This page was published May 2018

This page is due for review December 2020

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