Flashing Lights in Vision Symptoms, Causes & Common Questions

Are you seeing flashing lights in one or both eyes? Flashing lights in vision can appear in the corner of the eye, in one's peripheral vision, or as floaters that appear to drift in the air, and have a variety of causes. Often times, substance in the inner rear portion of the eye breaks loose, causing floaters. If you're seeing flashing lights in your eyes persistently, however, you may need to see your primary care doctor. Read more below to learn what may be causing your eye flashes and how to treat it.

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Contents

  1. Symptoms
  2. Causes
  3. 6 Possible Flashing Lights In Vision Conditions
  4. Treatments and Relief
  5. Real-Life Stories
  6. FAQs
  7. Questions Your Doctor May Ask
  8. Statistics
  9. Related Articles
  10. References

Flashing Lights and Floaters in Eyes Symptoms Explained

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].

Common characteristics of flashing lights in vision

If you're experiencing flashing lights in your vision, it can likely be described by the following [2,3].

  • Flashes of light in the corner of the eye
  • Occurs in both eyes
  • Occurs in your peripheral vision
  • Appearance of specks
  • Appearance of threads and cobweb-looking strands
  • Showers of floaters that appear suddenly drifting in the air
  • Loss of peripheral vision (side vision): Or as if a shade or curtain is being drawn over your field of vision
  • Feeling/appearing as if a shade is being drawn around your line of vision

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].

What Causes Eye Flashes and Floaters?

Why flashing lights in vision or floaters occur

To understand why we see floaters and/or flashing light in our vision from time to time, it helps to visualize the eye. 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 occasionally occur. 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

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].

Torn retina or retinal detachment

If you begin seeing these floaters often, there could be a more serious cause of these flashes of light, such as 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].

6 Possible Flashing Lights In Vision Conditions

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced flashing lights in vision. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Cataract

A cataract is when the lens, a crystalline structure in the eye that normally allows light into the eye, becomes cloudy. Symptoms of a cataract include blurry vision, difficulty seeing at night, glare, difficulty discerning colors, and increased nearsightedness.

The diagnosis is made by examination by an ophtha...

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Age-related macular degeneration

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is an eye disease in which the center of the retina is progressively damaged, leading to gradual central vision loss. The macula, found at the center of the retina, is responsible for producing central...

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Retinal detachment

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

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 Symptom Checker

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New migraine

New, or new-onset, migraine means the person has never experienced a migraine headache before. A migraine is a one-sided headache that causes intense pain and throbbing due to blood vessels dilating in the brain.

The exact reason for new-onset migraine headache is not known, but a number of causes are being studied:

  • Pregnancy.
  • Soy isoflavone supplements, especially in men.
  • Use and overuse of certain medications.
  • Traumatic head injury.
  • Angioma, which is a cluster of dilated blood vessels in the brain.
  • A complication of surgery for some heart conditions.

Anyone with a sudden severe headache should be seen by a medical provider, so that a more serious cause can be ruled out. A transient ischemic attack, also known as TIA or mini-stroke, can have symptoms similar to a migraine but is far more serious.

Diagnosis is made through patient history, physical examination, and imaging such as a CT scan.

Treatment for migraine varies with the individual. Lifestyle changes may be recommended and there are a number of medications that may be tried.

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

Normal occurrence of floaters

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

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

Type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is also known as adult-onset diabetes, because it is the result of lifestyle and is not hereditary. Diabetes of any type is the condition where the body does not produce enough insulin to process the sugars in food.

Risk factors include obesity, overeating high-carbohydrate foods, lack of exercise, pregnancy, and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS.)

Early symptoms include increased thirst; frequent urination; weight loss despite increased appetite; blurred vision; infections that are slow to heal; and blood sugar somewhat higher than normal.

It is important to get treatment at the first sign of these symptoms, because the high blood sugar levels can cause serious organ damage. Heart disease, neuropathy, kidney damage, and blindness can all result from untreated diabetes.

Diagnosis is made through a series of blood tests to measure blood sugar levels.

Type 2 diabetes cannot be cured, but it can be managed through lifestyle changes. A diet which eliminates refined carbohydrates and controls calories; regular exercise; regular blood sugar monitoring; and sometimes insulin or other medications will all be recommended.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: fatigue, increased appetite compared to normal, vision changes, feeling itchy or tingling all over, excesive thirst

Urgency: Primary care doctor

When and How to Treat Flashing Lights in Eyes

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].

When to see a doctor for flashing lights in vision or floaters

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].

How to rid the eye of occasional floaters

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].

When flashing lights in vision or floaters are an emergency

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

  • The flashes occur 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.

Treatments for a torn retina or retinal detachment

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].

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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.

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.

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.

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 [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

To diagnose this condition, your doctor would likely ask the following questions:

  • Are you experiencing a headache?
  • Have you ever been diagnosed with diabetes?
  • Do you currently smoke?
  • 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

Please take a quiz to find out what might be causing your flashing lights in vision. These questions are also covered.

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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 Buoy Assistant (a.k.a. the quiz).

Flashing Lights In Vision Symptom Checker

Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your flashing lights in vision

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.

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