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Floaters and flashes in the eyes

Dots and lines (floaters) or flashes of light in your vision are common. They're not usually serious.

Floaters and flashes are usually harmless

If you sometimes see:

  • floaters – such as small dark dots, squiggly lines, rings or cobwebs
  • flashes of light

in your vision, it's not usually a sign of anything serious, especially if:

  • you've had them for a long time
  • they're not getting worse
  • your vision is not affected

Flashes may eventually stop, and floaters often become less noticeable as you get used to them.

Urgent advice: Ask for an urgent opticians appointment or get help from NHS 111 if:

  • you suddenly get floaters or flashes in your vision
  • the number of floaters or flashes suddenly increases
  • you have a dark "curtain" or shadow moving across your vision
  • you also have blurred vision
  • you also have eye pain
  • floaters start after eye surgery or an eye injury

These could be signs of a serious problem with the back of your eye, which could permanently affect your vision if it's not treated quickly.

You can call 111 or get help from 111 online.

What happens at your appointment

If you have floaters or flashes in your vision, your eyes will be checked to see if you might need to be seen by an eye doctor (ophthalmologist) for more tests or treatment.

You'll usually only need treatment if you have a problem that could affect your vision.

Causes of floaters and flashes

Lots of people, particularly older people, get floaters and flashes.

They're usually caused by a harmless process called posterior vitreous detachment (PVD), where the gel inside your eyes changes.

Sometimes they can be caused by retinal detachment.

This is serious and can lead to permanent vision loss if not treated.

Floaters and flashes can also happen for no obvious reason.

Page last reviewed: 16 July 2020
Next review due: 16 July 2023