What Are Eye Flashes?

Editor: Dr. Russel Lazarus, Published February 14, 2021

Have you ever been startled by the appearance of small flashes of light out of the corner of your eye?

When eye flashes appear out of nowhere, they can be a cause for concern. Eye flashes can be a normal part of the aging process or can sometimes signal a serious retinal eye disease.

Eye flashes are typically noticed from the corner of one or both eyes, and can present in various shapes, colors and sizes.

Eye flashes can appear as:

  • Bright flickering spots
  • Streaks of light
  • Bright jagged lines, similar to a lightning bolt
  • Bursts of light, similar to a camera flash or fireworks

Eye flashes that appear similar to a lightning bolt are a common visual symptom of ocular migraines.

For many people, eye flashes may be more prominent first thing in the morning and slowly fade as the day continues. Others may only notice flashes when sitting in a dark room.

If you are experiencing eye flashes, the Find an Eye Doctor directory provides a list of eye doctors near you that can determine the cause of your eye flashes.

What causes eye flashes?

  • Posterior vitreous detachment (PVD): This is one of the most common causes of eye flashes. This condition occurs as part of the natural aging process when the vitreous humor, the gel inside the eye, shrinks and detaches from the retina. A sudden onset of this condition can cause the sudden appearance of eye flashes or of a large floater in the visual field.
  • Retinal tear or detachment: When the retina detaches from its normal position at the back of the eye, or a macular disease suddenly appears, total or partial blindness can occur.

This serious condition requires immediate medical attention.

  • Optic neuritis: When the optic nerve becomes inflamed by an infection or nerve-related disorder it can lead to total or partial blindness.

This is an emergency that requires immediate medical attention.

  • Increased eye pressure: This can occur from a head or eye injury, coughing forcefully, or from simply rubbing your eyes.

A sudden spike in eye pressure requires emergency medical attention. 

When to call an eye doctor 

Seek immediate medical attention if you notice a sudden onset of eye flashes along with any of the following symptoms:

  • Blurred vision
  • Partial vision loss
  • Darkened vision
  • Dizziness

Although in many cases, eye flashes are caused by posterior vitreous detachment, eye flashes can be a sign of a more serious eye condition.

Therefore, in order to determine the cause of your eye flashes, it is always best to schedule an eye exam to rule out any serious eye conditions that may require immediate attention.

Your eye doctor can treat the underlying cause of eye flashes and eliminate these visual disturbances while protecting your eyes and preserving your vision.

Seeing an eye doctor for regular eye exams is the best way to protect your eye health and vision.