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Dr. Dan B.
Dr. Dan B., Board Certified Ophthalmologist
Category: Eye
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Experience:  Eye surgeon experienced in cataracts, glaucoma, retina & neuro-ophthalmology
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Im experiencing white flashes in my left eye. What is causing

Resolved Question:

I'm experiencing white flashes in my left eye. What is causing this?
Submitted: 6 years ago.
Category: Eye
Expert:  Dr. Dan B. replied 6 years ago.

Hello and thanks for your question.


A typical migraine headache starts with shimmering lights, often times they surround a blurry area or have dots or jaggedly lines associated with them. They tend to progressively increase in intensity and sometimes march across the visual field. Many times this is then accompanied by nausea, irritability, sensitivity to bright lights and/or loud noises. After the onset of the lights (called scintillating scotomas), the headache typically starts and the light show tends to progressively go away. Many people can have this migraine phenomenon without the headache; it is called an acephalgic migraine. Some people even start having these late in life, or may have had a few much earlier in life that behaved differently and haven't had any for decades and then begin to have them; this is not uncommon. A family history of migraines is often present as well.


Flashing lights can also be due to traction on the retina from the vitreous jelly (occupies most of the volume of the back of the eye and is connected to the retina).

If have floating dots or spots that are new and that tend to follow your eye movements, floating behind and then catching up to the same position they occupied before then your symptoms sound consistent with what are called vitreous floaters. These floating spots or "bugs" as some people call them, are tiny pieces of the vitreous jelly that occupies a large amount of the volume of the back of the eye. This vitreous jelly, when we're born, is the consistency of a jello jiggler (thick jello). As we age it liquifies and becomes more fibrous bands and water.


Because of this liquification and the resultant fibrous bands that are left, there becomes more points of traction that the jelly exerts on the back of the eye where it is attached. As we move our eyes in different directions and as our pupils change shape, or even as we rub our eyes, some of these bands can become unattached from the back of the eye and a piece of it floats around, attached still to the rest of the jelly. It is this traction of the vitreous jelly on the retina that can produce these flashes. These flashes tend to be small, like starbursts and are usually intermittent; they can also appear as an arcing light.


One of the most important things to understand about floaters is that the process of a new floater happening can rarely lead to a retinal detachment, so it is important to know the 4 signs of a possible retinal detachment. These are: 1. sudden increase in or new floaters, 2. flashing or arcing lights that are persistent and not going away, 3. a shade/shadow/spot in your vision that you can't see light through, or 4. a large drop in your vision which doesn't improve after a few minutes. For any of these symptoms you must see an ophthalmologist as soon as possible.


Which phenomenon sounds more consistent with your symptoms? If it is the flashing associated with a possible migraine or is it the flashing from traction on the retina from the vitreous jelly? If it is the latter, you should see your eye doctor as soon as you are able. If it does sound more like the migraine phenomenon, you could consider seeing youru primary care doctor or just wait and see how it goes.


Does that help to answer your question?


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My opinion is solely informative and does not constitute a formal medical opinion or recommendation. For a formal medical opinion and/or recommendation you must see an eye doctor.

Customer: replied 6 years ago.

I'm under a great deal of stress but had no headache, nor family history of this. My mother though has had several holes in her retina.Can these white flashes be a symtom of this.
Sometimes my vision is blurry and takes blinking to focus my sight. Is this related?
Expert:  Dr. Dan B. replied 6 years ago.

Yes, these white flashes can be a symptom of retinal holes, so if there is a family history this would be an important thing to get evaluated for.


Your intermittent blurry vision that improves with blinking is likely not related to the white flashes, but instead is likely a component of dry eye. When our tear film which covers the front of the eye is not healthy (as in dry eye), the eyes tend to dry out quicker when we read or use the computer. Blinking wipes the slate clean so to speak and improves the vision temporarily.

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