Acute onset flashers and floaters

(Redirected from Floaters)


Eye anatomy.

Clinical Features

  • Floaters
    • A sensation of gray or dark spots moving in the visual field
    • Caused either by light bending at the interface of fluid pockets in the vitreous jelly or cells located within the vitreous
    • May persist for months to years
  • Flashes
    • Monocular, repeated, brief flashes of white light in the peripheral visual field
    • related to traction on the peripheral retina from areas of tightly adherent vitreous jelly

Differential Diagnosis

Acute onset flashers and floaters


Retinal Images



Referral of patients with presumed posterior vitreous detachment

Clinical Assessment Disposition
  • Floaters and/or flashes with “red flag” sign of acute Retinal Detachment
    • Monocular visual field loss (“curtain of darkness”)
  • Same-day (immediate) referral to retinal surgeon (minutes may matter)
  • New-onset floaters and/or flashes with high-risk features:
    • Subjective or objective visual reduction examination
    • Vitreous hemorrhage or vitreous pigment on slitlamp examination
  • Same-day referral to ophthalmologist or retinal surgeon
  • New-onset floaters and/or flashes without high-risk features
  • Referral to ophthalmologist within 1 to 2 weeks
    • Counsel patient regarding high-risk features
  • Recently diagnosed uncomplicated posterior vitreous detachment with
    • New shower of floaters
    • New subjective visual reduction
  • Rereferral to ophthalmologist to rule out new retinal tear or detachment
    • Contact ophtho to help determine urgency
  • Stable symptoms of floaters and/or flashes for several weeks to months, not particularly bothersome to the patient and without high-risk features
  • Elective referral to ophthalmologist
    • Counsel patient regarding high-risk features that should prompt urgent reassessment

See Also

Eye Algorithms


  1. Hollands H, Johnson D, Brox AC, Almeida D, Simel DL, Sharma S. Acute-Onset Floaters and Flashes: is this patient at risk for retinal detachment? JAMA. 2009;302(20):2243-2249.