Can Dry Eyes Cause Flashing Lights?

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Managing Dry Eyes

When your eyes are dry, you can experience many uncomfortable symptoms, including scratchy or burning sensations. While some people find over-the-counter methods help improve symptoms, severe dryness might require the services of an eye doctor.

Dryness might seem like a minor complaint, but it can lead to severe eye problems if untreated, even affecting your vision. So, what symptoms can you expect with dry eyes? And are flashes a typical symptom?

Dry Eyes or Dry Eye?

Feeling like your eyes are dry can be a symptom of multiple eye conditions. When your eyes feel dry for a longer period, you might be suffering from dry eye, a chronic eye condition.

Dry eye is when your eyes cannot produce tears effectively. Basal tears are essential for nourishing and cleaning the cornea (the eye’s surface).

Chronic dry eye is more common in older adults, as tear production decreases with age. Dry eye can be caused by multiple factors, including dry environments, eye conditions, medications, and health conditions.

Dry eye can include various symptoms, including dry eyes or watery eyes. You may also experience blurry vision, light sensitivity, or eye irritation. When the condition advances without treatment, the dry eye can cause severe symptoms, including:

Dry eyes DO NOT cause flashing lights.

Woman holding her glasses while rubbing her eye in pain.

What Are Flashes?

Seeing flashes of light, shimmering, or flickering is a visual disturbance known as photopsia. The flashes may happen in one or both eyes and appear in various shapes or colors. The flash might be quick, or it might be a long series of light movements. 

Pressure on the eye, a bump on the head, or even coughing too hard can nudge the retina. The retina is a thin tissue layer located at the back of the eye, crucial for detecting visual information using light. Because the retina is light-sensitive, you can see a burst of light when the retina is jerked or disturbed.  In short, anything that stimulates the presses on the eye or stimulates neurons in the brain or eye can cause flashes.

The movement of fibers or protein clumps inside the eye (known as floaters) can also cause tugging on the retina , causing flashes as a result of the mechanical stimulation. The fibers float in the vitreous humor (a gel-like substance in front of the retina).

Some also see floaters, like spots or strings floating across their vision. However, it’s the floaters moving across the retina, casting shadows over your sight.

A female eye doctor is holding a human eye model and discussing the possible cause of flashes with her senior male patient that is sitting on the side of the table.

What Can Cause Flashes?

Flashes are not harmful. However, they can be a symptom of more concerning eye conditions or health problems.

Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetes is a chronic health condition caused by the inability to effectively use or produce enough insulin to regulate blood sugar levels. When blood sugar levels rise, it damages cells and causes abnormal blood vessel growth. 

When diabetic retinopathy develops, weakened or damaged cells in the retina lead to vision loss as a result of decreased blood flow and hemorrhage. Patients may see flashes if the retina tears or detaches due to damage. Dry eye is also common, affecting 54% of people with diabetes.


A migraine (a spasm of blood vessel in the brain) might be the cause when you see light flashes that look like heat waves or jagged lines. The flashes can last up to 20 minutes and are usually followed by a headache.

However, some people may experience the symptoms of a migraine (including flashes) without a headache.

There are often certain conditions (stress) and foods (processed meats, chocolate, etc.) that can trigger migraines.

Optic Neuritis

Optic neuritis is the inflammation of the optic nerve, usually caused by infection or a nerve disorder. The optic nerve is a bundle of over one million nerve fibers. It sends visual information from the retina to the brain through electric signals.

As the optic nerve and retina work closely together, optic nerve inflammation can stimulate the retina, causing flashes.

Vitreous Detachment

Posterior vitreous detachment is when the vitreous humor detaches from the retina. The sudden tear can cause sudden flashes of light and a significant increase in floaters. People who are nearsighted or over 50 have a greater risk of vitreous detachment.

Vitreous detachment may not cause symptoms and typically does not require treatment. However, it can increase the risk of retinal detachment.

Retinal Detachment

Retinal detachment is when the retina shifts away from the back of the eye. The retina may detach completely or tear slightly. It can cause sudden flashes, an increase in floaters, or decreased central vision. In some cases, you may not observe any symptoms. Still, retinal detachment is a severe condition that can lead to vision loss.

Detecting retinal damage as soon as possible offers patients the best chance of preserving their vision. Treatment is successful for 90% of patients.

Get Your Flashes Checked

When you’re seeing flashing lights, it’s time to see an eye doctor. Getting your eyes evaluated is crucial for determining if your flashes are the symptom of an eye problem. Sight is a priceless gift, so visit your optometrist for an eye exam to protect your sight.

At Sight360, we’re dedicated to delivering a complete, 360-degree approach to vision care. We’ve assembled a multidisciplinary team across West Central Florida to provide our patients with seamless, value service. Please request an appointment with our team today!