If You Read One Article About Flashes of Light Read this One

When flashes of light streak across your vision like bright lightning, radiating waves, flickering lights or jagged lines, it could be a normal sign of aging, or it could be an emergency. Most often, the fibers that attach to the retina can become brittle and pull, putting pressure on the retina and causing flashes of light. Or, sometimes an injury or even rubbing your eyes too hard can put pressure on the retina and cause streaks of light across your vision. The board-certified ophthalmologists at Colorado Ophthalmology Associates of Denver, CO, have extensive experience with evaluating and explaining flashes of light and when it is an emergency.

Symptoms

Flashes of light in one or both eyes can be instant or can last up to 20 minutes.1 Flashes can be intermittent and can be in the periphery of the vision. You may notice floaters that accompany your light flashes or shadows in the periphery.

Causes

Flashes of light that last for several minutes could be caused by a migraine.1 Migraines do not have to be accompanied by flashes of light, but some do.

Otherwise, flashes of light are usually caused by a posterior vitreous detachment. This means that a part of the retina has become detached or torn.2 The vitreous is a gel-like fluid filled with tiny fibers that attach to the retina at the back of the eye. As you age, these strands stretch and tear away from the retina. This may cause shadows, or floaters, in your vision or it may cause flashes of light. While this is a normal part of aging, for a few people these tears can be an emergency since it may lead to retinal detachment and vision loss.3

Risks

If you are over 50 years old, you are at risk of vitreous detachment. This risk will increase as you age and is most common in people over 80 years old. People who are nearsighted have an increased risk of vitreous detachment. If you have had it in one eye, you are more likely to have it in the other eye.3

Complications

While vitreous detachment is a normal part of aging, for a few people these tears can be very serious since it may lead to retinal detachment and vision loss. This is a medical emergency.3 That’s why all retinal tears need to be examined by a board-certified ophthalmologist.

Retinal detachment can occur when the vitreous strands completely tear away from the retina. This requires immediate treatment to keep the entire retina from detaching which increases the risk of permanent vision loss or blindness.4

Vitreous detachment can also tear a hole in the macula which controls your central vision. A macular hole is a rare condition but may require surgery if it gets worse. If caught early, macular holes can often be successfully treated and vision can be restored.5

Occasionally, a vitreous detachment causes scar tissue to form on the macula. This is a gradual change commonly called a macular pucker. It can cause wavy lines to interfere with reading or driving. Your ophthalmologist closely tracks macular puckers and can offer surgery to smooth out the wrinkles on the retina membrane.6

Emergency Symptoms

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms in addition to flashes of light, come right away to one of our locations below for an emergency eye examination or go to the emergency department.

  • Sudden increase in frequency and/or severity of flashes of light
  • Sudden slashing arc of light on the periphery
  • Shadow or blurred spot in your vision
  • Gray area that covers part of your vision either on the side or the middle
  • Pain accompanying the flashes of light
  • Flashes of light that last more than a few months
  • Any sudden changes or distortions in vision

Get a comprehensive eye exam today

If you are experiencing flashes of light in your vision and you have any of the emergency symptoms listed above, come in right away for an urgent care visit. If you are experiencing flashes of light occasionally, call today at one of our two Colorado locations in Denver or Lakewood to schedule a dilated eye exam.

            Denver: 303-320-1777

            Lakewood: 303-989-2023

1 https://www.aao.org/eye-health/diseases/what-are-floaters-flashes  

2 https://www.aao.org/eye-health/ask-ophthalmologist-q/causes-of-flashes-in-vision

3 https://www.nei.nih.gov/learn-about-eye-health/eye-conditions-and-diseases/vitreous-detachment

4 https://www.nei.nih.gov/learn-about-eye-health/eye-conditions-and-diseases/retinal-detachment

5 https://www.nei.nih.gov/learn-about-eye-health/eye-conditions-and-diseases/macular-hole6 https://www.nei.nih.gov/learn-about-eye-health/eye-conditions-and-diseases/macular-pucker

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