Eye floaters are dots or specks in a person's vision that seem to float away when the person tries to look directly at them. They are made up of the vitreous of the eye, and in most cases, they are completely normal. The vitreous is the clear, gel-like substance that fills out most of the eye.
Eye floaters do not usually require treatment, as they themselves do not cause any harm to the sight. However, in some cases, eye floaters may make it difficult to see and will require removal to restore sight.
Eye floaters may also be an early sign of an underlying issue, such as damage to the retina.
The main symptoms of eye floaters are small areas in a person's field of vision that seem out of place.
Floaters can take different shapes, including:
- shadowy dots or specks
- small lines
- cobweb shapes
- other irregular shapes
They may also appear as a dark or lighter area of vision. Sometimes, the area where the floater is will look slightly blurry compared with the rest of the field of vision.
Floaters are tiny but can significantly affect the vision, as they are very close to the input of the eye.
One characteristic of eye floaters is that they seem to dart back and forth across the field of vision. Trying to look directly at a floater will cause it to move away in the direction the person looks.
When the person rests their eyes, the floaters seem to drift on their own.
Eye floaters are a natural phenomenon due to the vitreous body of the eye. The vitreous helps give the eye its round shape.
Floaters occur when this vitreous body starts to shrink. As it shrinks, little fibers can break away and become stringy. This is what doctors call vitreous detachment.
This detachment causes stringy masses of vitreous that can disrupt light coming into the retina. This casts a tiny shadow into the eye, which is what makes floaters noticeable.
Eye floaters are a normal part of the aging process. The American Society of Retina Specialists note that conditions such as vitreous detachment, which causes more floaters, are more common after the age of 60.
Everyone can get eye floaters at some point, though most people ignore them. Many may only notice them when they look at a blank, bright surface or area such as the sky.
Although they can be distracting at first, most eye floaters tend to settle down to the bottom of the eye, beneath the field of vision.
However, the American Society of Retina Specialists recommend that a person who notices sudden symptoms such as floaters get checkups with an ophthalmologist within the first few months after the symptoms appear, to check for any signs of more serious issues.
Although some floaters in the eye may be a normal part of the aging process, experiencing a sudden increase of floaters in the eye may be a sign of another issue, such as retinal detachment.
When retinal detachment occurs, it is not uncommon for people to experience other symptoms along with eye floaters. They may experience flashes of light that are not there, especially in the side of their fields of vision. They may also experience a loss of vision in the sides of their eyes.
Retinal detachment is serious and may lead to blindness without treatment. Anyone who notices a sudden and noticeable increase in floaters, along with other symptoms, should see an eye doctor immediately.
There are also more serious causes of floaters in the eye, including:
- inflammation in the eye
- tearing or trauma in the retina
- traumatic injury in the eye
- diabetic retinopathy
- eye tumors
Anyone who notices a sudden increase in eye floaters should see an eye doctor to obtain a complete diagnosis.
Although it may not be possible to prevent eye floaters, it is still helpful to follow some basic practices to keep the eyes healthy. These include:
- maintain a healthy weight or lose weight
- eat a varied, nutritious diet
- quit smoking
- wear sunglasses outdoors
- wear protective eyewear when necessary
- rest the eyes frequently
Eye floaters do not require treatment in most cases.
Although floaters may be irritating when a person notices them, they do not pose any direct threat to the sight.
In most cases, floaters settle down to the bottom of the eye, beneath the field of vision. The Columbia University Department of Ophthalmology estimate that it can take up to 3 months for a person's first floater to completely detach.
In rare circumstances, floaters may become very dense and potentially disrupt a person's vision. In these cases, a doctor may recommend a procedure called a vitrectomy.
During a vitrectomy, a healthcare professional will surgically remove the vitreous gel causing the floater. They will then replace this vitreous gel with a saline solution, or a bubble filled with gas or oil. Most people notice no difference between the vitreous and the saline solution after surgery.
Doctors generally reserve this procedure for serious circumstances, as it comes with its own set of potentially serious complications. These include cataracts and retinal detachment.
There are some alternatives to surgery for removing floaters.
A laser treatment method called laser vitreolysis may break apart or dissolve larger floaters, making them less noticeable. However, laser therapy is not for everyone.
An ophthalmologist will need to do a complete diagnosis in each case to see if the person could benefit from laser therapy.
Many people will experience eye floaters at one point or another. They can be annoying but are often harmless. Eventually, they may settle outside the field of vision, and most do not require treatment.
In very rare circumstances, eye floaters may disrupt vision and require surgical treatment. A sudden, very noticeable increase in eye floaters may also be a sign of other serious issues, such as retinal detachment, which could lead to blindness if a person does not receive prompt medical treatment.
Anyone who notices a sudden increase in eye floaters should visit an eye doctor for a full diagnosis.