Floaters and flashes in the eyes

Dots and lines (floaters) or flashes of light in the eyes are common. They're not usually serious.

Floaters and flashes are usually harmless

If you sometimes see:

  • floaters – such as small dark dots, squiggly lines, rings or cobwebs
  • flashes of light

in your vision, it's not usually a sign of anything serious, especially if:

  • you have had them for a long time
  • they're not getting worse
  • your vision is not affected

Flashes may stop by themselves, and floaters often become less noticeable as you get used to them.

Get advice from 111 now if:

  • floaters or flashes appear suddenly
  • floaters or flashes suddenly increase in number
  • you have a dark "curtain" or shadow moving across your vision
  • you also have blurred vision
  • you also have eye pain
  • floaters start after eye surgery or an eye injury

These could be signs of a serious problem with the back of your eye, which could permanently affect your vision if it's not treated quickly.

111 will tell you what to do. They can tell you the right place to get help if you need to see someone.

Go to or call 111.

Other ways to get help

Get an urgent opticians appointment

You can get your eyes checked at an opticians.

Call an opticians near you and ask if you can have an urgent appointment.

Find an opticians

What happens at your appointment

Your eyes will be checked to see if you might need to be seen by an eye doctor (ophthalmologist) for more tests or treatment.

You'll usually only need treatment if you have a problem that could affect your vision.

Causes of floaters and flashes

Lots of people, particularly older people, get floaters and flashes.

They're usually caused by a harmless process called posterior vitreous detachment (PVD), which happens as you get older.

Sometimes they can be caused by retinal detachment.

This is a serious condition where a thin layer that sends signals to the brain (the retina) pulls away from the back of the eye. It can lead to permanent vision loss if not treated.

Floaters and flashes can also happen for no obvious reason.

Page last reviewed: Tue Aug 2020 Next review due: Tue Aug 2020

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