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Difference Between Floaters and Flashes

Floaters are dark shapes and shadows you see in your field of vision. Flashes are flashing lines or shapes that you see in the corner of your field of view.

What are Floaters?


Floaters are dark shapes, lines, or spots that seem to float across your field of vision. The medical term for eye floaters is myodesopsias.

Causes and prevalence:

Floaters are due to aggregations of collagen in the vitreous of the eye. The collagen is a type of protein. The vitreous is the gelatinous material found inside the eyeball. Floaters are more common in people over age 60, in the elderly, and in people who are nearsighted. 

Process of formation:

The way floaters form is that light entering the eye and passing through the vitreous encounters the collagen and then produces shadows on the retina.


Although it may be normal, floaters can be an early sign that the person is experiencing retinal detachment, bleeding in the vitreous humor, posterior vitreous detachment, or has uveitis (inflammation of the eye).


Usually, no treatment is needed. However a surgeon can break up floaters (vitreolysis) or cut the floaters out during a surgical procedure (vitrectomy).

What are Flashes?


Flashes are when you see flashes of light at the edges of your vision. These flashes are flickering and not constant. The medical term for flashes is photopsias.

Causes and prevalence:

Flashes in the eye can be due to mechanical changes of the vitreous. This can occur if the eye is hit or rubbed hard. They are common in the elderly (over 87 years) when the vitreous inside the eye shrinks, pulling on the retina. 

Process of formation:

The process that causes flashes can involve the retina and fluid in the back part of the eye, but it can also be due to changes in blood flow to the eye (this can happen with some migraines). Aging is one reason that vitreous fluid starts to move away from the retina, which can trigger the flashes of light.


Flashes, like floaters can be a sign of the retina detaching or due to bleeding in the vitreous humor. They can also be a sign of other medical conditions like migraines, posterior vitreous detachment, retinal detachment, macular degeneration, and diabetes. 


Treatment is only necessary if it is caused by an underlying medical condition. Once migraines and diabetes are treated, the flashes may go away.

Difference between Floaters and Flashes?


Floaters are dark shapes, spots, or lines that you see in your field of vision. Flashes are flashes of lines or lights you see on the edges of your field of view.


The floaters are formed when light strikes collagen fibers that are in the vitreous. Flashes are formed when there are mechanical changes in the vitreous or changes in blood circulation to the eye.


Collagen fibers that are clumped together in the vitreous cause floaters in the eye. Movement of the vitreous away from the retina and alterations in the blood supply to the eye cause flashes in the eye.


Pathological reasons for having floaters include the retina detaching. Pathological reasons for having flashes include the retina detaching and tearing and having diabetes or migraines.


Floaters do not always need treatment, but options can include vitreolysis or vitrectomy. Flashes do not need to be treated unless there is an underlying medical problem causing the condition.

Table comparing between Floaters and Flashes

Summary of Floaters Vs. Flashes

  • Floaters and flashes can both sometimes occur in the eye.
  • While flashes and floaters are not always indicative of a major problem, a visit to an eye specialist is a good idea.
  • Floaters and flashes are also more likely to occur in old age.
  • Treatment may not be necessary for flashes or floaters unless they are due to an underlying medical problem.


What do eye floaters and flashes look like?

Eye floaters look like shadows of different shapes and lines. Eye flashes are flashes of light in the edge of the field of vision.

What is the difference between floaters and flashing lights?

Floaters are dark shadows that you see while flashing lights are, as described, flashes of light that takes various shapes.

What do flashes in vision look like?

Flashes are a flash of light that may look like a star, a spot, or jagged line. Flashes are usually seen on the edges of your field of vision.

When should I worry about eye flashes?

You should worry if you lose your vision at the same time as you start seeing eye flashes. It is a good idea to see an eye specialist if this happens or if you are concerned about any changes in your vision.

How long should floaters and flashes last?

Flashes may last for a month and floaters may not completely go away. You may get used to the floaters and not notice them as much over time.

What is the most common cause of flashes and floaters?

The most common cause of floaters and flashes is having posterior vitreous detachment.

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References :

[0]American Academy of Opthalmology. “Flashes of light”. American Academy of Opthalmology, 2023, https://www.aao.org/eye-health/symptoms/flashes-of-light

[1]Brady, Christopher J. “Eye Flashes and Floaters”. Merckmanuals. Merck & Co., 2022, https://www.msdmanuals.com/home/eye-disorders/symptoms-of-eye-disorders/eye-flashes-and-floaters

[2]Cleveland Clinic. “Eye floaters (myedosopsias)”. Cleveland Clinic, 2023, https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/symptoms/14209-eye-floaters-myodesopias

[3]Image credit: https://www.canva.com/photos/MADBhuC6eyg-vision/

[4]Image credit: https://www.canva.com/photos/MAEEgj-sBVk-vision/

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