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Eye spots, flashes and floaters

Eye spots and floaters are small, semi-transparent or cloudy particles that float within the vitreous (the jelly-like fluid filling the eye). They come in different shapes and sizes and can look like insects, rain drops, dark spots, cobwebs, thread-like strands, or hair.

What causes spots and floaters?

Spots and floaters may be flecks of protein or other matter that were trapped while the eye was forming before birth. They also can be caused when the vitreous partially liquefies. This often happens during the normal aging process. Certain eye diseases or injuries can also cause floaters.

Are spots and floaters serious?

Most spots and floaters are normal. Sometimes they can indicate a more serious problem. Especially if there is a sudden increase in their number or if they are accompanied by flashes.

What are flashes and vitreal detachment?

Flashes are streaks of light that may or may not appear with spots and floaters. They are similar to what you see when a flash goes off on a camera. Flashes last for only one or two seconds. One cause of flashes might be migraine headaches. Another cause might be the vitreous shrinking and pulling away from the retina (the part of the eye that receives visual images and sends them to the brain). Every time the vitreous pulls on the retina, you will see a flash of light. Vitreous shrinkage is normal. If it continues, it can result in part or all of the vitreous separating from the back of the eye (vitreous detachment).

Is vitreal detachment serious?

Vitreal detachment is very common and rarely leads to serious problems. Sometimes, however, a vitreal detachment can cause small tears or holes in the retina. These holes can progress and cause severe vision loss.

What should I do if I see spots, floaters or flashes?

If you suddenly see many spots, floaters, or flashes, you should contact your eye doctor immediately. You may need a dilated examination. This examination allows your eye doctor to determine if you have a vitreal detachment or a more serious problem. In most cases a sudden increase in spots, floaters, or flashes requires no treatment other than careful monitoring by your eye doctor.