Photopsias are a symptom of health conditions that affect the eye, including a detached retina and age-related macular degeneration. You may need prompt treatment by an eye doctor.

Photopsias are sometimes referred to as eye floaters or flashes. They’re luminous objects which appear in the vision of either one or both eyes. They can disappear as quickly as they appear or they can be permanent.

Photopsias are defined as an effect on the vision that causes appearances of anomalies in the vision. Photopsias usually appear as:

  • flickering lights
  • shimmering lights
  • floating shapes
  • moving dots
  • snow or static

Photopsias are not generally a condition on their own, but a symptom of another condition.

Several conditions affecting the eyes can cause photopsia to occur.

Peripheral vitreous detachment

Peripheral vitreous detachment occurs when the gel around the eye separates from the retina. This can naturally occur with age. However, if it occurs too rapidly, it can cause photopsia which manifests in flashes and floaters in the vision. Typically, the flashes and floaters go away in a few months.

Retinal detachment

The retina lines the inside of the eye. It’s light sensitive and communicates visual messages to the brain. If the retina detaches, it moves and shifts from its normal position. This can cause photopsia, but can also cause permanent vision loss. Medical attention is needed to prevent vision loss. Surgery may include laser treatment, freezing, or surgery.

Age-related macular degeneration

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a common eye condition among people aged 50 and older. The macula is a part of the eye that helps you see sharply straight ahead. With AMD, the macula slowly deteriorates which can cause photopsia.

Ocular migraine

Migraines are a type of recurring headache. Migraines typically cause severe pain in the head, but can also cause visual changes known as auras. Migraines can also cause visual snow.

Vertebrobasilar insufficiency

Vertebrobasilar insufficiency is a condition that occurs when there’s poor blood flow to the back of the brain. This causes a lack of oxygen to the part of the brain which is responsible for vision and coordination.

Optic neuritis

Optic neuritis is an inflammation that damages the optic nerve. It’s linked to multiple sclerosis (MS). Along with flickering or flashing with eye movement, symptoms include pain, loss of color perception, and vision loss.

In most cases, photopsia is a symptom of a preexisting condition. The underlying condition must be identified and treated in order to resolve the symptoms.

If you’re experiencing light flashes or other symptoms of photopsia, you should visit your doctor as soon as possible. Photopsia can be the first sign of eye conditions such as macular degeneration, retinal detachment, or vitreous detachment.

Additionally, if you’re experiencing dizziness, weakness, headaches, or vomiting, you should visit a doctor immediately as you may be experiencing symptoms of head trauma.