Flashing Lights in Eyes

After noticing some flashes of lights in your eye, you're a little concerned and wonder just what this could be. Such flashes, also known as photopsia, can be a symptom of different conditions, including a retinal detachment, where the light-sensitive retina pulls away from the back of the eye or a retinal tear.

While an occasional flash is not anything to be unduly concerned about, if this is persistent or if you notice what looks like jagged lightning strikes or shooting stars, you should seek medical attention since this may be a serious threat to your vision.

This article will highlight the potential causes of seeing flashing lights. It also delves into risk factors and complications, as well as testing to identify what may be the precipitating factor here.

Person undergoing an eye examination

Edwin Tan / Getty Images

Symptoms of Photopsia

In cases of photopsia, you may see the following:

  • Streaks of lightning
  • Flickering lights
  • Stars

Causes of Flashing Lights in the Eyes

Commonly, seeing flashing lights is caused by the following, often involving interaction with the retina:

  • Posterior vitreous detachment: This happens when the jelly in the eye begins to shrink as you age. It can tug on the light-sensitive retina, causing flashes.
  • Retinal detachment or retinal tear: These can happen if there's fluid leaking behind the retina. Scar tissue on the retina pulls on the area, resulting in flashes. It can cause the retina to pull away from the back of the eye. Or, a small tear in the retina allows fluid to seep through and collect behind the retina.
  • Diabetes-related blood in the eye from diabetic retinopathy: The blood leaking from the vessels can cause scarring on the retina, which can pull, resulting in flashes of light and possibly a detachment.
  • Migraine-related flashes: These can occur when the visual cortex of the brain is activated during an attack
  • Transient ischemic attack: Blood flow is temporarily blocked in the brain.
  • Seizure: This is an episode of erratic electrical activity in the brain.
  • Damaged optic nerve: This nerve carries visual information from the retina to the brain.

What Medications Can Cause Flashes of Light?

Some medications have also been associated with light flashes. Such medications include:

  • Digoxin: This heart medication can be associated with flickering and flashing of lights and other visual disturbances in some people.
  • Aralen (chloroquine) and Plaquenil (hydroxychloroquine): These drugs treat malaria, rheumatoid arthritis, or other autoimmune diseases. They can sometimes cause photopsia.

How to Treat Flashes of Light

Some flashes of light, seen occasionally, require no treatment. But if you see frequent flashes of light, you will need to consult with an ophthalmologist who can treat the underlying condition causing them.

Possible treatments include:

  • Surgery to reattach your retina may be used for a detached retina.
  • Cryotherapy (freezing treatment) or laser repair may be done for small retinal tears or retinal holes.
  • If you have scarring from diabetic retinopathy, treatment includes using lasers to deal with new blood vessels, eye surgery to remove scarring, or eye injections to keep new blood vessels from forming.

Complications and Risk Factors Associated With Flashes of Light

If you are experiencing flashes of light, there is a possibility that something may be affecting your retina. You may be experiencing a retinal detachment or a tear, both of which can be sight-threatening and need immediate attention.

Risk factors associated with experiencing flashes of light can include:

  • Aging can predispose you to have a posterior vitreous detachment, where the jelly (vitreous) inside the eye shrinks and pulls away from the retina. Seeing flashes here may be an on-and-off occurrence. But if flashes come on suddenly, this may mean the retina has torn.
  • Extreme nearsightedness (having trouble seeing things at a distance without correction) can make you vulnerable to retinal detachment.
  • Having family members who've had retinal detachments increases risk.
  • A severe blow to the eye increases the risk.
  • Glaucoma medication that makes the pupil at the center of the eye small, such as Pilocar (pilocarpine), increases the risk.
  • Eye surgery such as cataract removal or a glaucoma drainage procedure increases the risk.

Are There Tests to Diagnose the Cause of Flashes of Light?

If you are experiencing flashes of light, an ophthalmologist should be able to identify the underlying cause with the aid of a clinical exam. In addition, the ophthalmologist may perform an ultrasound to help detect a posterior vitreous or retinal detachment.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

While seeing an occasional flash of light is not a real cause for concern, some symptoms signal you should seek eye care. Be sure to contact an ophthalmologist promptly if:

  • You find yourself experiencing flashes of light suddenly, and these are persistent.
  • The flashes of light are accompanied by a burst of new floaters (strands drifting across your field of vision, or you notice one giant floater.
  • Your side vision is suddenly diminished, or it seems as if some of your vision is being obscured by a curtain.


You may commonly see periodic flashes of light due to a posterior vitreous detachment as you age. Other common causes of flashes of light include migraines, diabetes-related retinal scarring, and retinal tears and detachment.

Some medications, such as digitalis or anti-malaria drugs like chloroquinoline and hydroxychloroquine, can be associated with flashing lights.

When treatment is necessary, this usually involves getting to the root of the problem, such as reattaching the retina or repairing a retinal tear. Be sure to see a healthcare provider if you notice a sudden shower of new flashes, new floaters, or diminished side vision.

A Word From Verywell

If you notice flashing lights in your eyes, keep in mind that while it's important to be aware of this, it's not always a cause for concern. Even if it is necessary to seek help, there are fortunately effective treatments to deal with the underlying conditions here.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes seeing flashes of light?

    Anything that tugs on the retina can have this effect. Usually, this is the result of aging, where the vitreous jelly shrinks and pulls away from the back of the eye in a posterior vitreous detachment.

    But at times, this can be a sign of a serious retinal detachment or tear. It can also be a sign of a migraine in some cases.

  • Can bleeding in the eye from a condition like diabetic retinopathy cause flashes of lights?

    Yes. The bleeding can scar the retina, and this scarring can pull on the area, causing you to see flashing lights.

  • How can I get rid of flashing lights?

    If the flashing lights are from a posterior vitreous detachment, then once this is complete, the flashing will stop. Otherwise, you will need to seek treatment from an ophthalmologist who can identify what is causing this and recommend how to best resolve it.

9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. University of Michigan. Flashes and flickers.

  3. Shi L, Sun LD, Odel JG. Colored floaters as a manifestation of digoxin toxicity. Am J Ophthalmol Case Rep. 2018;10:233-235. doi:10.1016/j.ajoc.2018.02.024

  4. Review of Ophthalmology. Common medication that may be toxic to the retina.

  5. American Academy of Ophthalmology. Flashes of light.

  6. National Eye Institute. Retinal detachment.

  7. National Health Services. Treatment diabetic retinopathy.

  8. University of Michigan Health. Floaters and flashes.

  9. American Academy of Ophthalmology. Detached retina.

By Maxine Lipner
Maxine Lipner is a long-time health and medical writer with over 30 years of experience covering ophthalmology, oncology, and general health and wellness.