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Seeing spots refers to seeing specks, cobweb-like images, and threads that drift across your line of vision.5 You may notice a large floater or several small ones. They may be floating in front of you, or you may see them in your peripheral vision. And they may or may not be accompanied by a migraine headache.
A floater is a small cluster of cells or a fleck of protein that becomes condensed in your vitreous humor. The vitreous is a clear gel-like substance that fills the back two-thirds of your eyeball. Your vitreous provides a pathway for light that enters your eye through the lens, and it connects to your retina, which captures images and sends them to your brain via your optic nerve.5 From there, your brain interprets that image.
When you see spots, you are not seeing the floater itself. Rather, you are seeing the shadow that the floater casts onto the retina.5 That’s why floaters move as your eyes move and appear to float away when you look directly at them.
Most of the time, you are seeing spots because that vitreous gel in your eye shrinks or changes in some way.2
If you see spots, also known as floaters and flashes, it may not be a cause for concern. That said, you may have an underlying condition that is causing you to see spots. You might be seeing spots due to an eye health concern or another health concern that requires medical treatment.7
If you are seeing new floaters or are experiencing a sudden increase in floaters, you should consult your eye doctor immediately.
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Here are a few possible causes of seeing spots and flashes of light. An eye specialist can help you identify the root cause of your condition.
If you injure your eyes and damage your retina, you may begin to see flashes of light occur. Other symptoms will likely accompany these flashes of light. You should seek immediate attention if you have had eye trauma. You may need eye surgery.
Certain eye diseases, such as cataracts and retinal disease, can cause you to see spots that may look like floaters.6 You may need to have cataract surgery to correct your vision.
Cataracts can lead to vision loss that is reversible. If you have had cataract surgery, you may see spots afterward.
Diabetes is also a possible cause of seeing spots.5 Bleeding into the vitreous can also cause you to see spots, and that may be a symptom of diabetes.1
Your eye health deteriorates with old age, and your vision becomes weaker. Many floaters are simply age-related.5 The older you get, the higher risk you face of seeing spots and flashes of light.
Retinal detachment can occur when your vitreous shrinks and tugs on the retina, pulling away from it. This is called a posterior vitreous detachment, and it can cause the retina to tear.
Fluid from inside your eye can then seep into the tear and separate your retina from the tissues, which is called retinal detachment.
Unfortunately, this can lead to permanent vision loss.
There are certain factors that can increase your risk of seeing spots. They include the following: 3
If you are at risk of seeing spots and start seeing them or experiencing other symptoms related to poor vision, you should consult a doctor for treatment.
Seeing spots is not always a cause for concern. That said, you may require treatment if you are experiencing a lot of symptoms, especially if they are impacting your vision. Your eye doctor will provide medical advice on whether or not your case is serious.
If you have a detached retina or a retinal tear that is getting worse, for example, you need treatment.7 If left untreated, retina problems can lead to severe vision loss.
If you are seeing more floaters than usual or experiencing a sudden onset of floaters, talk to your doctor. If you have an underlying problem like a detached retina, for example, you will want to get medical help immediately.
Your doctor will perform a comprehensive eye exam on you, including a dilated eye exam, to get a better idea of why you are seeing spots and flashes of light.
Treatment for eye floaters depends on the cause of your eye floaters. For example, if you are dealing with a torn retina, your ophthalmologist may perform laser photocoagulation. They will use a laser to make tiny burns around your retina tear to create a barrier of scar tissue and stop it from tearing more.
Another laser treatment is called YAG vitreolysis, which vaporizes floaters by heating them up.8 However, this treatment is controversial.
Meanwhile, if your eye floaters are due to an eye disease or diabetes, your doctor will prescribe you certain medications and a course of treatment that addresses the root of the floaters. A comprehensive eye exam can help your eye doctor determine the best treatment for your particular case.
Some eye floaters will eventually settle and go away on their own.
Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about what happens when spots occur in your line of vision:
Most floaters and occasional flashes are not cause for concern. They may happen from time to time in both eyes or in the same eye.
But if you are noticing that you are seeing a lot more floaters than before or you are experiencing floaters and flashes with other vision problems, you should consult a doctor.
For example, if you start seeing spots after an eye or head injury from contact sports, you should also talk to a doctor.
These spots could be a sign of vitreous hemorrhage, which is a complication of diabetic retinopathy.
Yes, low blood pressure can cause you to see spots.
Yes, high blood pressure can cause you to see spots. High blood pressure can damage the light-sensitive tissue in your retina, which can lead to bleeding in your eye.4 Bleeding can cause you to see spots. It can also lead to a loss of vision.
You may be dizzy and see spots for several reasons. This may be because of an eye or head trauma, because you have low blood pressure, or for another reason. If you are seeing spots, call for medical help immediately.
“Eye Floaters.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 28 Aug. 2020, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/eye-floaters/symptoms-causes/syc-20372346.
“Flashes of Light.” American Academy of Ophthalmology, 17 Dec. 2020, www.aao.org/eye-health/symptoms/flashes-of-light.
“Floaters.” National Eye Institute, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, www.nei.nih.gov/learn-about-eye-health/eye-conditions-and-diseases/floaters.
Skerrett, Patrick J. “What You Can Do about Floaters and Flashes in the Eye.” Harvard Health, 16 Apr. 2020, www.health.harvard.edu/blog/what-you-can-do-about-floaters-and-flashes-in-the-eye-201306106336.
“How High Blood Pressure Can Affect Your Body.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 19 Nov. 2019, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-pressure/in-depth/high-blood-pressure/art-20045868.
“Specks in Your Vision Can Signal Serious Eye Conditions.” Harvard Health, 1 June 2013, www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/specks-in-your-vision-can-signal-serious-eye-conditions.
“Sudden Appearance of Floaters and Flashes Can Signal Serious Eye Issues.” Sudden Appearance of Floaters and Flashes Can Signal Serious Eye Issues - Vital Signs - UCLA Health - Los Angeles, CA, www.uclahealth.org/vitalsigns/sudden-appearance-of-floaters-and-flashes-can-signal-serious-eye-issues.
“What Should You Do about Those Unpleasant Eye Floaters?” Harvard Health, 1 Oct. 2017, www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/what-should-you-do-about-those-unpleasant-eye-floaters.