When you see a flash of light or lightning-like streaks on the edge of your vision, you’re experiencing what are commonly known as eye flashes. Like vitreous floaters, eye flashes are typically a fleeting, harmless condition; they may last only seconds or could go on for nearly half an hour. However, in rare cases they can be a sign of a more serious eye issue.
Common Causes of Eye Flashes
A variety of conditions, both related to the eye and related to the brain, can cause eye flashes. The most common causes are:
- Posterior Vitreal Detachment: Our eyeballs are filled with a gel-like substance called the vitreous. As we age, the vitreous breaks down, shrinks and becomes less like a gel and more like a liquid. The shrinking of the vitreous can create a tugging on the retina (the layer of tissue located at the back of the eye), causing the appearance of an eye flash in our field of vision.
- Retinal Detachments: On rare occasions, eye flashes are a symptom of a retinal detachment. This is a serious condition that is considered a medical emergency requiring an immediate visit to an ophthalmologist. Symptoms associated with this condition include the sudden appearance of flashes and floaters; the sensation of a shadow descending from the top or side of your vision; and/or a sudden decrease in vision.
- Ocular Migraines: Also sometimes called an ophthalmic or retinal migraine, these can occur without the pain typically associated with a migraine headache. If eye flashes are the result of a migraine, they will eventually disappear without any intervention.
Other potential causes of eye flashes include:
- Head/brain injuries
- Neurological disorders
- Inflammation of the eye nerves
- Low blood pressure
- Transient ischemic attack
- Certain medications
While in most cases eye flashes are not a serious issue that requires medical treatment, how do you know when you should see a doctor?
When Eye Flashes Require an Eye Doctor Visit
For occasional eye flashes, you probably don’t need to schedule an urgent visit to your Houston ophthalmologist, but do mention it at your next eye exam. However, if you experience any of the following, we recommend calling Berkeley Eye Center as soon as possible:
- You’re used to having the occasional eye flash but suddenly you start having a lot of them;
- The occasional eye flashes or floaters you are used to experiencing suddenly look different;
- You’ve never experienced flashes before but suddenly you are having a lot of them; or
- Your eye flashes start making it hard to do normal daily activities.
When you go to the eye doctor, he or she will test your vision and examine your eyes, including dilating your pupils to see inside your eye to determine the cause of your eye flashes and whether they need treatment.
If eye flashes and floaters are causing you concern, call Berkeley Eye Center today at (713) 526-3937 to schedule an appointment with a Houston eye doctor.