Understanding the Causes of Flashes of Light and Small Black Dots in the Eyes: A comprehensive guide

2024-01-30 07:10:00

Flashes of light and small black dots dance in front of the eyes – these symptoms occur to many people every now and then. But is that dangerous? And what’s behind it?

The most important things at a glance

Suddenly noticing flickering and flashing in the eye can be very unsettling. It often happens while reading or when those affected look at a light background. The causes are varied, the three most common include:

  • a vitreous opacity,
  • a vitreous detachment, which in the worst case can lead to a retinal detachment, or even
  • a so-called ocular migraine.

Cause 1: Vitreous opacity

Most of the human eye is filled with a crystal-clear gelatinous substance, the vitreous humor. This consists of 98 percent water and two percent hyaluronic acid. A framework made of collagen fibers provides the necessary stability.

Good to know

Collagens are proteins of connective tissue. In animals and humans, they are always found where tension and tensile strength is required, for example in the skin or in ligaments and tendons that hold bones and joints together.

As we age, the collagen fibers in the vitreous body can separate and clump together. These clumps are then perceived as small dots or fluff that float in front of the field of vision. They are often referred to as “mouches volantes”, i.e. “flying mosquitoes”.

In such a case, experts speak of vitreous opacity. This is not dangerous at first, but rather a completely normal aging process. As the Professional Association of Ophthalmologists in Germany (BVA) reports, almost everyone gets to know this phenomenon in the course of their life.

In short-sighted people, the opacities can even appear at a young age because their eyeballs are longer and the vitreous humor detaches from the retina more easily.

Lint in front of the eyes: Irritating for most patients

The generally harmless “mouches volantes” are found to be irritating by many patients: the closer the opacities are to the retina, the more disruptive they are to the quality of vision. When the eyes and head move, they drift or oscillate back and forth. Only if the patient feels severely impaired is treatment with surgery or laser an option.

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Cause 2: Retinal detachment

If the whirring threads and dots increase significantly or flashes of light appear, another cause is also possible, for example a retinal detachment. It is usually preceded by a vitreous body detachment: As we get older, the vitreous body shrinks and detaches itself from the retina in pieces. In most cases, the detachment itself is initially symptom-free and quite harmless – but if it causes tears and holes in the retina, this can lead to a retinal detachment. Visual cells can die and, in the worst case, those affected can go blind.

If you see soot rain, go to an ophthalmologist immediately

In addition to the flashes of light, bleeding in the vitreous body is another possible warning sign of a retinal detachment. This can then lead to a significant deterioration in visual performance. Those affected often describe this as “soot rain”. In this case, you should not waste any time and go to the ophthalmologist immediately.

Cause 3: Ocular migraines

The flashes in the eye and the eye flickering can also be symptoms of an ophthalmic migraine. This disease is thought to be caused by circulatory disorders caused by a dysregulation of the blood vessels in the brain. Headaches rarely occur in those affected, whereas they are the main symptom of normal migraines.

If you notice repeated cloudiness, flickering or flashes in front of your eyes, it is advisable to consult an ophthalmologist.

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