What are Eye Floaters?

Text insert for Floaters | The Eye ProfessionalsEye floaters are spots in your vision. They can look like specks, strings, or cobwebs that clearly move about, or drift, when you move your eyes back and forth or up and down. As you age, the vitreous humor, a jelly-like substance that fills about 80 percent of the eye, can become more liquid and the microscopic fibers that are within the vitreous can clump and cast shadows on your retina. These shadows are floaters. 

Eye floaters come and go and are annoying, but most of the time they are harmless.  

Causes of Floaters

New onset of floaters should be examined as they can be the first signs of a retinal tear or retinal detachment.  There is no way to distinguish these floaters from others without an eye exam.

Other causes of floaters can include a posterior vitreous detachment (which can cause a retinal tear), blood and inflammation.

Eyes that are injured, inflamed, or nearsighted are more likely to experience floaters. Eye floaters usually last a few weeks, but it is not uncommon for them to last about six months.

Floaters usually settle below the line of sight after a few weeks and no treatment is necessary. In rare instances, floaters can be so closely packed together and numerous that they significantly affect vision and in these cases a vitrectomy can be performed by a retina specialist. The procedure removes the vitreous humor and replaces it with saline or a bubble made of gas or silicone oil to hold the retina in position.

When to see a Doctor

Sometimes when the small vitreous fibers pull on the retinal cells there will be a sensation of a flash of light. It is not unusual for flashes and floaters to occur at the same time; however, flashes of light can also be a symptom of a retinal detachment, so if you experience flashes of light see your eye doctor as soon as possible for an examination.

If you experience a sudden increase in floaters, see your eye doctor.

Floaters Requiring Immediate Attention

If you have floaters and have frequent flashes of light or a dark shadow in part of your peripheral (side) vision, or your eyes hurt, call you eye doctor right away. These symptoms could mean there is a tear or break in your retina and that your retina is detaching. A retinal detachment is an emergency and immediate treatment can save your sight.