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Floaters and Light Flashes

We Evaluate Eye Floaters & Light Flashes in Wilmington

Simulation of vision with floaters

What Causes Floaters & Light Flashes?

Most occurrences of floaters or light flashes relate to changes in the jelly-like substance called vitreous which fills the entire back cavity of the eye. The vitreous is transparent and has a solid consistency similar to gelatin. As people grow older, the vitreous undergoes a normal aging process, becoming more liquid and less jelly-like. Often the partially liquefied vitreous will abruptly “collapse” inside the eye, causing a shower of floaters to appear. The floaters are aggregates of protein which have formed in the vitreous during the liquefaction process.

When the vitreous collapses, it begins to separate from the retina. The mechanical pull of the vitreous on the retina during this separation causes light flashes. Sometimes during this separation process, a retinal tear develops and can lead to a retinal detachment. Often when a retinal tear occurs, at least a small amount of bleeding is present in the vitreous and may be noted by the patient as a multitude of black dots or a hazy decrease in vision.


Many people, at some time in their lives, notice floaters in one or both eyes. These are perceived as small spots or strands that seem to drift in the field of vision, traveling rapidly with eye movements and then floating slowly when eye movements cease. Floaters are most readily seen against a bright background such as well illuminated reading material, a computer screen or bright sky.

Light Flashes

Light flashes may occur in conjunction with floaters or may occur separately. Unlike floaters, light flashes (photopsias) are typically perceived in subdued lighting or even total darkness. Photopsia can range from minimal light twinkles to flashes that are bright enough to suggest a neon sign or camera flash.

Know the Warning Signs

The sudden occurrence of floaters or flashes can be an important warning signal of impending retinal problems. On careful ophthalmoscopic examination, a small percentage of people who develop the abrupt onset of prominent floaters or light flashes in an eye will be found to have a retinal tear. Retinal tears can often be treated with laser or freezing methods if a beginning retinal detachment is not present.

Fortunately, the majority of people who experience floaters or light flashes do not develop serious retinal problems. In most instances, the floaters and flashes gradually subside over a period of time with no permanent alteration in vision. Since flashes and floaters can, however, be an important warning of a retinal tear or impending retinal detachment, their sudden appearance is of sufficient concern to warrant careful evaluation by your retinal specialist.

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our locations

Wilmington Office

Cape Fear Retinal Associates
1104 Medical Center Drive
Wilmington, NC 28401

Supply Office

10 Doctors Circle Suite 1
Supply, NC 28462

Kenansville Office

Duplin Eye Associates, OD, PA
402 North Main Street
Kenansville, NC 28349

Whiteville Office

Coastal Vision Center
2183 James B. White Highway N
Whiteville, NC 28472

Annex Office

1098 Medical Center Drive
Wilmington, NC 28401

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