Light Flashes in the Eye

Photopsia, sometimes called flashes in the eye, can be caused by several conditions. Some are harmless, but others indicate a need for immediate treatment from a doctor. Any time flashes are accompanied by a loss of vision, spots that appear to float or move from side to side, or have a large number of floaters, call your doctor as soon as possible and report the flashes to him/her. Find out the possible causes for light flashes in the eyes to better deal with the condition.

Causes of Light Flashes in the Eye

Usually, flashes in the eye occur only in one eye and happen even when the eye is closed. They can appear as long or short bursts of light and can happen for several weeks or months. Often, the flashes seem to be on the side of your field of vision and are most often seen when looking at a darker background or when it is dark. If you have ever been hit in the eye, you may have experienced flashes or “stars.”

1. Migraine

Migraines are severe headaches that can last from a couple hours to many days and are caused by spasms of the blood vessels in the brain. Flashes caused by migraines can appear as zigzag lines, geometric patterns or sparkles. The flashes may occur in your peripheral vision either one or both eyes. Sometimes, the flashes may happen without a headache.

2. Posterior vitreous detachment

The gel substance that fills the center of the eye, called the vitreous, attaches to the retina. As it begins to shrink, it starts to detach in places and causes a condition known as posterior vitreous detachment. It pulls on the retina as it comes off and causes flashes of lights to occur. There is no treatment for this, but you must have regular eye exams to watch for other problems. This condition can affect 75% of people older than 65.

3. Retinal detachment or retinal tear

Both of these conditions require immediate attention. If the retina detaches from the back of the eye, especially over the macula, the vision loss may be permanent. When the retina detaches, it loses the source of nutrients and this can cause the cells to die. Because the retina has photosensitive cells that are responsible for vision, this can result in severe damage. A retina can detach from a trauma or a complication from diabetes. Surgery, laser treatments and a freezing technique called cryopexy can all be used to reattach the retina.

4. Aging

As a person ages, the vitreus shrinks, becomes thinner and may begin to separate from the retina. Shrinking occurs in about 66% of the population over 65. Experiencing flashing lights may be common, but if there is a noticeable increase in the amount of flashing, this may be a sign of the retina being torn.

5. Other causes

A blow to the head often causes a person to “see stars.” A medication that is given to treat heart problems called digitalis can also cause flashes of light in the eye.


Floaters and flashes in the eyes are usually not a serious problem. If either symptom appears suddenly or if you have many floaters in your eye, this could be a sign of retinal detachment or a retinal tear. If you have either of these symptoms and your vision seems blocked or blacked out, call your doctor right away. You may need to go directly to an emergency center if your vision is decreased or there seems to be an obstruction in your peripheral vision.

Watch a video for causes, symptoms and treatments of floaters and flashes in eye:

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