skip navigation
Eye on NEI
NEI Home » Eye on NEI » Ask the Doctor

July, 2009

Ask the Doctor

Why am I seeing flashes and floating objects in my vision?

Henry Wiley, M.D.
Henry Wiley, M.D.
Retinal Surgeon
National Eye Institute

Floaters are visual perceptions such as webs, threads or spots that can appear when the jelly-like fluid inside the eyeball, known as the vitreous gel, changes as a part of aging, says Dr. Henry Wiley, a retinal surgeon at the NEI.

"The occasional fleeting floater that occurs as a spot or strand and disappears after a few seconds is not something to worry about," Dr. Wiley says.

Because of this, floaters occur most often in adults older than 60, but people who are very nearsighted often experience them at a younger age, he explains. There are also other types of floaters, usually seen in the eyes of people who have certain medical conditions. For example, floaters in a person who has diabetes can indicate bleeding inside the eye.

"The occasional fleeting floater that occurs as a spot or strand and disappears after a few seconds is not something to worry about," Dr. Wiley says.

However, the sudden onset of persistent floaters, sometimes accompanied by lightning-like flashes of light, can signal something serious. Such symptoms can indicate that the vitreous gel is tugging on the light-sensitive tissue inside the eye, known as the retina, which can cause the retina to tear or detach--both vision-threatening situations. For this reason, sudden and persistent floaters should be checked by an eye care specialist.

If you have a retinal tear, your doctor may be able to treat it in the office using a laser, but a retinal detachment may require sight-preserving surgery. Prompt treatment is important for both conditions.

"If you catch a retinal tear or detachment early, you're more likely to save vision," Dr. Wiley says.

Read previous Ask the Doctor articles



Department of Health and Human Services NIH, the National Institutes of Health USA.gov