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Floaters in Eye and Flashing Lights

The back of the eye is filled with a “gel-like” substance called the vitreous. It is generally clear and free of cells and helps to give the eyeball its characteristic shape. It is also attached to the retina at a few locations—the optic disc, the macula, and the periphery of the retina.


Over time, the vitreous starts to break down and small pockets of fluid can form within it. It will eventually start to peel off the retina. This often happens spontaneously as you get older. If you are nearsighted or had some sort of trauma to the eye, this can happen earlier in life.

In the process of peeling off, small proteinaceous pieces of the vitreous may come off and start floating around in that space. This often describes the little “floaters” that we can see when we stare at a white wall.

As the vitreous continues to detach off the retina, it can tug on the retina—especially at areas where it is more adherent. This can cause electrical signals to fire in the retina which result in flashing lights or “seeing stars.”

Rarely, the vitreous can tug on the retina so hard that it can cause a tear in the retina. This can result in:

  • lots of new floaters
  • new persistent flashing lights
  • a dark curtain or veil coming over the vision.

These are the hallmark signs of a retinal detachment and is an emergency! Please call us immediately so we can bring you in for a dilated exam. If we note any retinal tears or detachments, we will refer you for urgent evaluation by a retinal specialist.

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