eye floaters

Updated Feb. 17, 2020

Vitreous floaters, more commonly known as eye floaters, are small spots that appear in your vision.

Eye Floater Symptoms

Eye floaters aren’t always the same. Signs and symptoms include:

  • Different shapes (such as spots, specks, bubbles, webs, threads, and clumps)
  • More visible when looking at light-colored areas
  • Movement when your eyes move
  • Drifting motion when your eyes are stationary

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What Causes Eye Floaters?

The most common cause is aging.  It is normal for the vitreous gel in the back part of our eye to shrink and liquefy as we get older. When that happens, the strands that hold the gel together begin to clump and form the floaters that we are then able to see.

While eye floaters due to aging are generally no reason for concern, there are more serious causes:

  • Posterior vitreous detachment: Occurs when the shrinking vitreous pulls away from the retina. This is usually harmless but can cause more serious conditions.
  • Vitreous hemorrhage: A bleed inside the eye can lead to floaters and, in some cases, vision loss.
  • Retinal tear: The retina, the thin layer of tissue in the back of the eye that allows you to see, can tear. Floaters may appear suddenly when this happens.
  • Retinal detachment: When the retina separates from the layer it’s attached to, you may experience a sudden onset of floaters.
  • Eye surgery: Floaters can appear after procedures such as cataract surgery.
  • Eye injury: A hit to the eye sometimes can produce floaters.
  • Uveitis: A group of inflammatory diseases that can destroy eye tissues. Floaters are an early symptom.
  • Infections: Certain infections in the eye can cause floaters.

Who Is at Risk?

Most people will develop floaters as they get older. This process happens gradually with age and the floaters can start to be seen even in a person’s 20s and 30s.  There is no effective way to prevent this from happening. It is more common the older you are.

Other risk factors include:

  • Diabetes
  • Eye surgery, including cataract surgery
  • Eye trauma
  • Near-sightedness

Eye Floaters Treatment

In most cases, the ophthalmologist will just monitor the vitreous floaters if there are no other abnormalities noted on exam. The floaters typically cause no harm and become less noticeable with time. Vitreous surgery can be performed to remove them in extreme cases, but this carries the risk of having surgery on an otherwise healthy eye and is usually not recommended.

When Should You See a Doctor?

It is always recommended you see an ophthalmologist if you suddenly develop new floaters.  As mentioned above, new floaters can sometimes be associated with other eye conditions, and it is best to see the ophthalmologist to rule out any other conditions. A dilated retina exam is recommended in order to assess for these.

For more information, visit UPMC Vision Institute online or call 412-647-2200 to schedule an appointment.

American Academy of Ophthalmology. Vitreous Hemorrhage: Diagnosis and Treatment . American Academy of Ophthalmology. What Is Diabetic Retinopathy?. American Society of Retina Specialists. Retinal Tears. Better Health Channel. Eye Floaters. Detachment of the Retina. Merck Manuals. National Eye Institute. Floaters. National Eye Institute. Uveitis. National Health Services. Floaters and Flashes in the Eyes. Patrick J. Skerrett. What You Can Do About Floaters and Flashes in the Eye . Harvard Health Publishing. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Retinal Detachment.

About UPMC Vision Institute

The UPMC Vision Institute is a national leader in the treatment of eye diseases and disorders. We seek to improve and restore your vision to help your quality of life, diagnosing and treating a wide range of conditions in both children and adults. Our treatments include both surgical and nonsurgical options. We also offer routine eye screenings and have full-scale optical shops. Find an eye expert close to you.