When tiny retinal cells are shed from your eye, they can get stuck in the jellylike coating over your eye that protects it from environmental damage. These cells can interfere with your vision and cause you to see floaters or flashes that are harmless despite being uncomfortable, but floaters and flashes can also be a sign you have an eye condition that needs to be addressed. Floaters appear as small lines, while flashes appear as shimmering specks.

Here's an overview of the potential causes and treatment options for floaters and flashes.

Causes of Floaters & Flashes

Floaters can be a sign of the following:

  • A blood clot in one of the veins at the back of your eye
  • The protective coating around your eyeball is damaged
  • The uvea, located just behind the lens in your eye, is inflamed
  • You have an eye tumour

Flashes can be a sign of the following:

  • The start of a migraine
  • Separation of your retina from the blood vessels that keep your eye healthy
  • Increased pressure in your eye, which may be the result of glaucoma


Treatment depends on the identified causes of the floaters and flashes, which can be determined by an eye examination. If they're being caused by harmless retinal cells you won't need any treatment, but other causes should be addressed to protect your vision. Here is a quick look at treatment options.


Corticosteroids can be used to treat inflammation of the uvea, while glaucoma can be treated with eye drops that reduce the pressure in your eyes by limiting the amount of fluid your eyes produce.

If a diabetic eye condition is causing the floaters and flashes, you will be referred to your diabetic nurse for a review of your insulin dosage. Prophylactic medication for migraines such as beta-blockers or tricyclic antidepressants can be prescribed by your GP, while a blood clot can be treated with a blood thinner such as heparin.

Laser Therapy

Damage to the jellylike coating that surrounds your eye can be repaired with laser therapy. It's a painless treatment that uses focussed light from a tiny laser to any seal holes. Laser therapy can also be used to burn away damaged blood vessels caused by diabetic retinopathy, or to treat glaucoma by removing the cells that are preventing fluid draining from your eyes.


If your retina is separating from the blood vessels in the back of your eye, you'll require surgery to save your sight. The procedure involves inserting a tiny silicone bubble into your inner eye, which pushes against the retina and holds it securely in place. The procedure can be carried out as a day case and is typically performed using general anaesthetic.

Floaters and flashes should never be ignored as they can be a sign of a serious eye condition. If you are experiencing floaters or flashes, schedule an appointment with your optometrist as soon as possible.