What Are Eye Floaters?

You’re admiring a bright blue sky when you notice a squiggly spot moving in front of your eye. You try to focus on it, but it slips away. Is something wrong with your vision?

Most likely not. Whether the shape is a speck, a bubble, or a thread, you’re experiencing an eye floater.

What Are Eye Floaters?

Eye floaters are tiny shapes that move across your field of vision. You may have had eye floaters for years, or you may have noticed that you’re seeing more as you get older.

For the most part, eye floaters are harmless. But they are also sometimes a sign of a more serious problem with your eyes. So it’s important to mention any changes in your vision to your eye doctor.

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What Causes Eye Floaters?

People tend to get more eye floaters as they age. That’s because the gel-like fluid in your eyes (the vitreous) begins to change texture. Tiny strands of the vitreous stick together and form clumps.

These tiny clumps cast shadows on your retina (the light-sensitive area at the back of the eye). The shadows show up in your vision as eye floaters.

Are Eye Floaters Normal?

Eye floaters are normal and common. Most people have eye floaters, to some degree.

You’re more likely to have eye floaters if:

  • You’re over 50.
  • You’re nearsighted (you need eyeglasses to see far away).
  • You’ve had swelling inside the eye.
  • You’ve had bleeding in your eye.
  • You have diabetes.
  • You’ve had a recent eye infection or injury.
  • You’ve had cataract surgery.

All those things can cause changes in the vitreous, causing eye floaters to appear.

Eye Floater Symptoms

Eye floaters can come and go over time. Normal eye floaters may look like spots, specks, squiggles, threads, or bubbles. They are sometimes nearly transparent or dark.

Eye floaters are more visible at certain times. If you look at something bright (like the sky or a blank white page), you’ll suddenly see floaters that weren’t there before.

Eye floaters move when your eyes move, so you can’t focus on them. Instead, they drift along in your field of vision.

When To See a Doctor for Eye Floaters

Most eye floaters are harmless. Although they are sometimes annoying, they usually don’t interfere with your daily life. Most people don’t need treatment for eye floaters.

But there are times when eye floaters are a sign of a detached retina, a more serious condition. It happens when the retina pulls away from the back of the eye. A detached retina can lead to permanent vision loss or even blindness.

You should see an eye doctor as soon as possible if:

  • Many new eye floaters appear suddenly.
  • You’re seeing sudden flashes of light.
  • You experience eye pain.
  • A dark, blurry shadow appears in your side or central vision.
  • A gray “curtain” moves across your field of vision.

If you’re in doubt about your eye floaters, it’s best to have an eye doctor check them out.

How Are Eye Floaters Diagnosed?

Your eye doctor can look for floaters by performing a dilated eye exam. You’ll receive eye drops to widen your pupil. Then the doctor can check your eyes for retinal detachments and tears, as well as any other eye problems.

The exam doesn’t hurt.

If the eye floaters aren’t the result of a retinal detachment or tear, you probably won’t need any treatment. If the eye floaters don’t bother you, there’s no point in treatment.

However, if eye floaters interfere with your daily life, you may consider getting a vitrectomy to treat them. Talk to your doctor about the pros and cons of vitrectomy surgery.

Sources

National Eye Institute, Floaters, Link

National Eye Institute, Retinal Detachment, Link

American Academy of Ophthalmology, Link

National Library of Medicine, Eye floaters, Link

NHS, Floaters and flashes in the eyes, Link

About Eye Center

The UPMC Eye Center 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.