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Flashing Lights in Vision Symptoms

Are you seeing "light" flash before your eyes lately? Light flashes, sometimes called floaters, are a specific type of eye problem that typically indicates a much deeper issue with the eye. [1]

Symptoms of flashing lights in vision include:

  • Flashes of light in the corner of the eye [2,3]
  • Flashes of light in both eyes [3]
  • Flashes of light in one's peripheral vision [2,3]
  • Specks appearing in one's vision [3]
  • Threads and cobweb looking strands in vision [2]
  • Showers of floaters that appear suddenly drifting in the air [2]
  • Loss of peripheral vision (side vision) or as if a shade or curtain is being drawn over your field of vision [2]
  • Feeling/appearing as if a shade is being drawn around your line of vision [2]

If any of these flashing lights in vision symptoms occur, you need to see an ophthalmologist who can diagnose your specific eye problem so you can get the most efficient treatment. [1,2]

Flashing Lights in Vision Causes Overview

To understand why we see floaters and/or flashing light in our vision from time to time, it helps to picture the eye as it is—filled with a jelly-like substance called the vitreous gel. [1]

From time to time, some of this substance breaks loose within the inner rear portion of the eye and we will see these floating cobweb-like substances in our field of vision. It is normal for this to occur occasionally. Although it appears as if these floating objects are in front of the eye, they are really floating within the vitreous layer of the eye. [3]

Migraines can also cause flashes of light to appear in the eye. With migraine headaches, people will often experience floaters or flashes of light that look like heat waves or jagged lines. These can appear in both eyes and can last a long time—up to 20 minutes or more. A headache that occurs right after these flashes of light is a typical migraine headache. However, sometimes people experience these flashes of light with no headache. When this occurs, it is called an "ophthalmic migraine" or "migraine without headache." [3]

However, if you begin seeing these floaters often, there could be a more serious cause of these flashes of light—a torn retina. A torn retina occurs when the retina tears as a result of the vitreous gel pulling away from the back of the eye. This is a serious problem as it can lead to an even more severe type of eye problem called retinal detachment. [4]

Therefore, it is always best to see an ophthalmologist if you suspect something more serious might be causing your floaters—or if you are experiencing them chronically. [1]

If you begin noticing new floaters, or that the floaters are increasing in number, this can be a sign of retinal disease—a condition which leads to permanent blindness. So, always, always call an ophthalmologist if these flashes seem to be increasing in number. [5]

A.I. Health Assistant Causes for Flashing Lights in Vision

The list below shows results from the use of our A.I. Health Assistant by Buoy users who experienced flashing lights in vision. This list does not constitute medical advice.

  1. 1.Cataract

    A cataract is clouding of the eye's lens that leads to decreased vision. It typically develops slowly over time.

    Resolves with surgery to remove the cataract

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    vision changes, blurry vision, sensitivity to light, double vision, altered color perception
    Symptoms that always occur with cataract:
    vision changes
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  2. 2.Age - Related Macular Degeneration

    Age-related macular degeneration is a disease of the macula, which is the part of the eye responsible for seeing objects clearly. It is the leading cause of vision loss in the United States.

    Lifelong

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    vision changes, blurry vision, difficulty transitioning from bright to dim environments, visual distortions, altered color perception
    Symptoms that always occur with age-related macular degeneration:
    vision changes
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  3. 3.Retinal Detachment

    The retina is a layer of tissue in the eye. When the retina detaches, its normal position is disrupted causing vision changes.

    Outcomes depend on extent of detachment and time to treatment.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    floating spots in vision, flashing lights in vision
    Symptoms that always occur with retinal detachment:
    floating spots in vision
    Symptoms that never occur with retinal detachment:
    eye pain, eye redness, eye itch, wateriness in both eyes
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room

    Flashing Lights in Vision Checker

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  4. 4.New Migraine

    Migraines are headaches of moderate to severe intensity, which happen when blood vessels in the brain swell up. They are episodic and thus can recur often. Most migraine sufferers experience increased sensitivity to sounds and/or lights and become nauseous and vomit.

    Migraine symptoms may resolve within a day or two, but the condition can come and go for a year or more. If any particular episode is unusually severe or does not respond to your customary treatments, you may want to see a doctor urgently.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    new headache, fatigue, nausea, mild headache, headache that worsens when head moves
    Symptoms that always occur with new migraine:
    new headache
    Symptoms that never occur with new migraine:
    fever, diarrhea, productive cough, headache resulting from a head injury
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  5. 5.Normal Occurrence of Floaters

    Floaters are small specks in your vision and often are nothing to worry about.

    Less than a day

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    floating spots in vision
    Symptoms that always occur with normal occurrence of floaters:
    floating spots in vision
    Symptoms that never occur with normal occurrence of floaters:
    recent eye injury, eye pain
    Urgency:
    Phone call or in-person visit
  6. 6.Type 2 Diabetes

    Diabetes causes that blood glucose (blood sugar) levels to become high. With Type II Diabetes, the more common type, the body does not make or use insulin efficiently. Insulin is necessary to metabolize glucose.

    Type II Diabetes is a life-long condition but can be well managed.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, increased appetite compared to normal, vision changes, feeling itchy or tingling all over, excesive thirst
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

Flashing Lights in Vision Treatments and Relief

Again, flashing lights in vision and floaters are more common than you might think, especially as we age and the vitreous layer within our eye begins to grow drier. However, there are certain symptoms that may indicate a more serious condition such as a torn retina or retinal detachment. [3,4]

A good trick to make the floaters stop appearing in your field of vision is to simply focus the eyes up, then down, then from side to side. This can shift the floaters out of your vision and give you some relief from them. [7]

You should call a doctor immediately if you notice any of the following symptoms in conjunction with light flashes/floaters: [4,6]

  • You begin noticing the flashes every day/many times per week
  • You notice shadows in your peripheral (side) vision
  • You notice the floaters and flashes are increasing in number
  • You begin experiencing the sensation of a drawn curtain around your vision or limited field of vision

These are all signs of a retinal tear and/or early signs of retinal disease, so call an ophthalmologist immediately.

Today, a torn retina can be treated with high beam pinpoints of laser light that uses spectrums of infrared light to fuse the retina back against the posterior wall of the eye. This surgery is called laser photocoagulation. Another procedure, cryopexy, uses extreme cold to fuse the retina back in place. Another popular treatment uses both of the above procedures in conjunction with injecting a bubble of gas into the eye that pushes the retina back into place (pneumatic retinopexy). [8]

FAQs About Flashing Lights in Vision

Here are some frequently asked questions about flashing lights in vision.

Why do I see flashing lights in my peripheral vision?

Flashes of light in your peripheral vision are often a sign of the substance within your eye, "vitreous gel," which changes shape and pulls on the retina. You may see flashes of light as your eyes age. They can be signs of a detached or torn retina. If your retina is detached, it can be reattached with medical care. Other causes of flashes of light include migraines, trauma to the eye, and normal aging. [1,8]

Do eye flashes ever go away?

Yes. If flashes of light are due to normal aging or a migraine, they will come and go with time. However, if they are due to a detachment of the retina, problems with the surface of the back of the eye, or damage to the nerves, it will require medical attention — otherwise, it will get worse. Usually, some occurrences can be connected with flashes of the retina. [1,8]

Are eye flashes serious?

Intermittent or periodic eye flashes are not worrisome. However, eye flashes following trauma or eye flashes followed by decreased vision are serious. They can be a sign of retinal detachment. Once the retina is detached, if it is not reattached by an ophthalmologist or a medical doctor who examines and treats eyes, it may die from a lack of blood flow — causing a permanent blind spot. [1,4,8]

Why do I see flashes of light in my eyes in the dark?

Your retina is the back layer of the eye that translates the light that enters your eye into shapes. When that layer is moved or altered by trauma to the eye or force upon the liquid of the eye, it can cause the retina to react as light is placed upon the eye. In a dark room, this can cause flashes of light. There is also a baseline level of activity of the retinas in a dark room that can cause small points of light. [8,9]

What causes flashing lights in both eyes?

Flashing lights in both eyes can be caused by head trauma or migraine headaches. Usually, migraine headaches are one-sided, and can be preceded by strange visual hallucinations as well as tear production of the eye and congestion of the nose. They are usually made better by a dark, silent room. Neither of these causes are life threatening and both are temporary. If flashing lights in both eyes persist, seek medical attention. [10]

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Flashing Lights in Vision

  • Q.Are you experiencing a headache?
  • Q.Have you ever been diagnosed with diabetes?
  • Q.Do you currently smoke?
  • Q.Have you been feeling more tired than usual, lethargic or fatigued despite sleeping a normal amount?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our flashing lights in vision symptom checker to find out more.

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Flashing Lights in Vision Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced flashing lights in vision have also experienced:

    • 13% Headache
    • 9% Floating Spots in Vision
    • 6% Blurry Vision
  • People who have experienced flashing lights in vision were most often matched with:

    • 50% Retinal Detachment
    • 25% Cataract
    • 25% Age - Related Macular Degeneration
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

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References

  1. Gudgel DT, Boyd K. Flashes of Light. American Academy of Ophthalmology. Published March 21, 2017. AAO Link.
  2. Floaters and Flashes in the Eyes. NHS. NHS Link.
  3. Boyd K. What Are Floaters and Flashes? American Academy of Ophthalmology. Published August 22, 2018. AAO Link.
  4. Boyd K. Retinal Detachment: What Is a Torn or Detached Retina? American Academy of Ophthalmology. Published March 1, 2016. AAO Link.
  5. Dunaief J. Eye Diseases that Can Cause Legal Blindness. BrightFocus Foundation. Published June 4, 2018. BrightFocus Foundation Link.
  6. Boyd K. Floaters and Flashes Treatment. American Academy of Ophthalmology. Published August 22, 2018. AAO Link.
  7. What to Know About Floaters. Prevent Blindness America. Published September 2013. Prevent Blindness America Link.
  8. Detached or Torn Retina Treatment. Swedish. Swedish Link.
  9. Optic Neuritis. Swedish. Swedish Link.
  10. Flashes and Floaters. International Guide Dog Federation. IGDF Link.