If you are experiencing eye flashes—streaks or lightening-like flashes of light in your field of vision—it may be a sign of a serious medical eye condition. Only your eye doctor can diagnose the cause of your flashes. In this article we will discuss the causes of eye flashes and what can be done about such visual disturbances.
What Exactly Are Eye Flashes?
The word flashes can be defined in many ways, and our visual experiences are subjective by nature, but for the purposes of this article we are talking about streaks or flickers of light appearing usually at the edge of your field of vision. In some cases it may be hard to tell exactly where in your visual field these eye flashes are occurring, or even in which eye. They may be fleeting, or they may last as long as ten to twenty minutes.
What Is Causing My Eye Flashes?
Eye flashes can be caused by a variety of conditions, but the most common causes of eye flashes are:
- Posterior Vitreal Detachment and Vitreal Traction (The vitreous gel pulling on the retina)
- Retinal detachment
- Retinal hole
- Retinal tear
- A neurological disorder or a medical condition affecting the brain
- Ocular migraine
Posterior Vitreal Detachment
The vitreous is the gel-like substance that fills the eye. As we get older, this substance begins to break down and shrink, which may make it lose some of its gel-like consistency. This shrinkage can cause it to tug at the retina, the layer of tissue at the back of the eye that senses light. This tugging produces the appearance in our vision of flashes of light. These eye flashes can be annoying, but they are generally harmless, and in most cases the cause is nothing more than the normal aging process.
Retinal Detachments, Tears, and Holes
In some cases, this tugging on the retina by the vitreous can create a hole in the retina, or even cause a retinal detachment. This is a condition in which the retina peels away from the back of the eye, and eye flashes are among its symptoms. A Retinal detachment is a serious, vision-threatening medical emergency, and if you suspect that this may have happened to you, you should see an eye doctor as soon as possible. Approximately one in ten people who suddenly begin to experience eye flashes are eventually diagnosed with a retinal tear. Other symptoms of a retinal detachment include floaters and decreased vision.
In rare cases, eye flashes can also be caused by problems with the optic nerve or the visual cortex, which is the part of the brain that is responsible for processing visual information. If your eye doctor is unable to determine the cause of your eye flashes, he or she may refer you to a neurologist in order to investigate the possibility that you are suffering from a neurological condition or a problem with your visual cortex.
Eye flashes are sometimes a symptom of an ocular migraine (also known as a retinal migraine), or a scintillating scotoma. People who suffer from one of these conditions may sometimes see shimmering areas of blindness in their field of vision, and these may sometimes be accompanied by flashes of light. Ocular migraines can occur with or without migraine pain.
How Does My Doctor Diagnose My Eye Flashes?
If you are experiencing eye flashes, your eye doctor will want to examine your eyes carefully. He or she will use special eye drops to dilate your pupils in order to examine your retina and vitreous. The doctor may also perform a slit-lamp examination. Other tests that may be conducted include eye pressure tests and ultrasound examination.
What Are My Treatment Options for Eye Flashes?
Treatment for eye flashes will depend on the cause of the problem. It’s best to talk to your doctor to see what your options are. In some cases, you will need to treat the underlying problem to find relief.