Flashes of light are pinpricks or spots of light that you see in your field of vision. People often say seeing flashes of light is like seeing “shooting stars” or “lightning streaks.” Flashes of light in your vision come from inside your eye. They are not caused by lights or anything else outside of your body.
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Most flashes happen when the vitreous gel inside the eye shrinks or changes, pulling on the retina (the light sensitive lining of the eye). Flashes of light can also happen if you’re hit in the eye or rub your eyes too hard. In both cases, the flashes are caused by physical force on the retina. Flashes of light usually appear and then fade quickly. In contrast, bright spots, lines or patches that appear and stay in place for a period of time may be migraine aura or a symptom of another condition. Migraine aura may look like shimmering jagged lines or appear wavy, like heat waves. Migraine aura can appear even if you do not get any headache.
Light rays that you may see around lamps, headlights or streetlights may be a symptom of cataract or an effect from an intraocular lens (IOL) or refractive surgery. Many people will see occasional flashes of light, especially as they age. These occasional flashes are usually harmless, but you should discuss them with your ophthalmologist during an eye exam. However, if you suddenly start seeing repeated flashes of light, this could be a serious problem, especially if you also have cloudy floaters or vision changes.
Call your doctor right away if:
o You suddenly start seeing flashes when you haven’t before.
o You have a sudden increase in flashes of light.
o You see flashes of light along with cloudiness or dark spots in your vision.
o You see a dark area or ‘curtain’ across your vision.
o You see flashes of light after being hit in the eye or face.
Suddenly seeing new floaters and flashes could mean your retina has torn or detached. This is a very serious condition that your ophthalmologist must treat quickly to prevent blindness.
There is no treatment for occasional flashes of light caused by vitreous changes from aging. Occasional flashes do not cause any damage and most people get used to them after a little while. If you’re seeing a lot of flashes of light, treatment of the underlying condition will usually reduce the number of flashes you see.
These conditions can cause flashes of light:
o Detached and Torn Retina
Other symptoms that may seem like flashes of light include:
o Distorted vision (with migraine)
o Halos around lights
o Starbursts around lights
For more information, see also: Floaters and flashes
The symptoms and possible related eye conditions/diseases in this section are for general reference only, and do not contain all visual symptoms or all possible related conditions or diseases. If you have any unusual vision symptoms, speak with your ophthalmologist.
It’s important to remember that many people do not know they have eye disease because there are often no warning signs or symptoms, or they assume that poor sight is a natural part of growing older. Early detection and treatment of eye problems is the best way to keep your healthy vision throughout your life. In many cases, blindness and vision loss are preventable.
The Academy recommends that adults with no signs or risk factors for eye disease get a baseline eye disease screening at age 40. For individuals at any age with symptoms of or at risk for eye disease, the Academy recommends that individuals see their ophthalmologist to determine how frequently their eye should be examined.
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Floaters look like small specks, dots, circles, lines or cobwebs in your field of vision. While they seem to be in front of your eye, they are floating inside. Floaters are tiny clumps of gel or cells inside the vitreous that fills your eye. What you see are the shadows these clumps cast on your retina. You usually notice floaters when looking at something plain, like a blank wall or a blue sky.
As we age, our vitreous starts to thicken or shrink. Sometimes clumps or strands form in the vitreous. If the vitreous pulls away from the back of the eye, it is called posterior vitreous detachment. Floaters usually happen with posterior vitreous detachment. They are not serious, and they tend to fade or go away over time. Severe floaters can be removed by surgery, but this is seldom necessary.
You are more likely to get floaters if you:
o are nearsighted (you need glasses to see far away)
o have had surgery for cataracts
o have had inflammation (swelling) inside the eye
Flashes can look like flashing lights or lightning streaks in your field of vision. Some people compare them to seeing “stars” after being hit on the head. You might see flashes on and off for weeks, or even months. Flashes happen when the vitreous rubs or pulls on your retina. As people age, it is common to see flashes occasionally.
Sometimes people have light flashes that look like jagged lines or heat waves. These can appear in one or both eyes and may last up to 20 minutes. This type of flash may be caused by a migraine. A migraine is a spasm of blood vessels in the brain. When you get a headache after these flashes, it is called a “migraine headache.” But sometimes you only see the light flash without having a headache. This is called an “ophthalmic migraine” or “migraine without headache.”
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