There does not appear to be a link between dry eyes and floaters. Floaters can occur due to normal changes in the eye that happen as a person ages. Dry eyes can occur due to poor quality of tears or lack of tear production.
Floaters are dark shapes that appear in a person’s line of vision. Floaters may appear as spots, threads, uneven lines, or look like cobwebs.
Floaters are usually harmless, and most people may notice floaters that come and go.
Dry eyes are also common, and can cause irritation, redness, and may affect vision. Dry eyes can happen if the eyes do not produce enough, or retain enough, tears. People may be able to treat dry eyes with artificial tears.
In this article, we look in further detail at causes of dry eyes and floaters, symptoms, treatment, and when to see a doctor.
There does not appear to be a connection between dry eyes and floaters.
Floaters happen due to normal changes in the eye that occur as people age.
A gel-like substance called the vitreous fills the middle of the eye. As people age, strands of the vitreous can form clumps or thicker strands. These strands cause shadows on the retina, which is the light-sensitive part of the eye. The shadows appear as floaters.
Dry eyes can happen due to poor quality of tears or lack of tear production.
According to the American Optometric Association and the National Eye Institute, dry eyes and floaters share some of the same risk factors. These include older age and medical conditions such as diabetes.
The following are causes of dry eye and floaters.
People may experience dry eyes due to:
Poor quality of tears
Tears consist of three layers: mucus, water, and oil. They help to keep an even layer of tears across the eye, add lubrication and protection, and prevent evaporation of tears.
If there is a problem with any one of these layers, tears may evaporate too quickly or not cover the eye properly, leading to dry eyes.
Insufficient amount of tears
Tear glands around the eyelids produce tears. Certain factors can reduce the amount of tears the glands produce, such as:
- being over the age of 65
- certain medications, such as antihistamines, decongestants, antidepressants, and blood pressure drugs
- certain medical conditions, such as Sjögren’s syndrome, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, or thyroid conditions
- refractive eye surgery
- blockage of the meibomian glands
Other factors that can cause dry eyes include:
- hormonal changes, such as pregnancy, menopause, or oral contraceptives
- blepharitis, which is an inflammation of the eyelids
- eyelids turning inwards or outwards
- long periods of screen time without regular blinking or breaks
- environmental conditions, such as wind, smoke, or dry climates
- using contact lenses long term
Floaters occur when strands of the vitreous clump together, causing shadows to appear on the retina.
This can happen naturally as a person ages.
Sometimes eye conditions can also cause floaters, including:
- eye infections or injuries
- inflammation of the eye
- bleeding in the eye
- vitreous detachment (the vitreous separates from the retina)
- retinal tear (vitreous detachment causes a hole to form in the retina)
- retinal detachment (the retina pulls away from the back of the eye)
A retinal tear or retinal detachment is a medical emergency, and people will need medical attention straight away.
Other risk factors for developing floaters include:
- being very near-sighted
- having diabetes
- having had cataract surgery
Symptoms of dry eyes include:
- redness on the whites of the eyes
- stinging or burning sensation
- scratchy or gritty feeling in the eye
- excessive watering
- blurry or fluctuating vision
- sensitivity to light
- strings of mucus in the eye
Symptoms of floaters include:
- small, dark shapes in front of vision that come and go
- shapes that may appear as spots, strands, or cobweb-like lines
- small specks that move as the eyes move, so it is hard to look at them directly
- small shapes that drift across vision when the eyes are not moving
- specks that may appear more when looking at something bright, such as white paper or the sky
Treatment for dry eyes focuses on increasing tear production, keeping tears in the eyes for longer, or reducing any inflammation of the eyes.
Treatment for dry eyes depends on the severity of dryness, but may include:
- Artificial tears: Many people with mild cases of dry eyes may find over-the-counter artificial tears helpful. People may find preservative-free tears cause less irritation.
- Blocking tear ducts: Blocking the tear ducts with tiny plugs helps to prevent tears draining out of the eyes as quickly. In some cases, people may require permanent blocking through a surgical procedure.
- Omega-3 fatty acid supplement: Taking an omega-3 fatty acid supplement may help to decrease symptoms of dry eye.
- Prescription eye drops: These can help to increase the production of tears.
- Treating inflammation: Eye drops, warm compresses, eyelid massages, or regular cleansing of the eyelids may all help to reduce inflammation in or around the eye.
- Thermal pulsation and intense pulsed light: These relatively new in-office procedures target problems in the meibomian glands, which can cause dry eye.
If people develop floaters as they age, they do not require any treatment unless the floaters are interfering with everyday life or affecting their vision.
If people do want treatment for floaters, vitrectomy is a surgical procedure that removes floaters. During a vitrectomy, a doctor will make a tiny opening in the wall of the eye to remove a large amount of the vitreous using a suction tool.
People can speak with an eye doctor about the benefits and risks of having a vitrectomy to treat floaters.
If an underlying condition is causing floaters, treating the condition may resolve them.
Floaters are usually harmless, but people should talk with an eye doctor about any new floaters or changes to existing floaters.
If people have the following symptoms, they will need to seek medical attention straight away:
- sudden appearance of new floaters
- flashes of light in one or both eyes
- blurred areas or a dark shadow across the sides or center of a person’s vision, almost like a curtain
These could be signs of retinal detachment, and people will need immediate treatment.
A person should contact an eye doctor if they begin to experience dry eyes. If it is severe, it can cause damage to the cornea.
Dry eyes and floaters are both usually harmless eye conditions. Some people may experience both together.
Dry eyes can happen due to poor quality of tears or a lack of tear production. People may be able to treat mild cases of dry eyes with over-the-counter artificial tears.
For more severe cases, people may need prescription eye drops or to block the tear ducts. In-office procedures such as thermal pulsation or intense pulsed light can help unblock the meibomian glands.
Floaters can happen as people age and the eye changes. Floaters are dark shapes that shift across a person’s vision. They do not usually need treatment, but if they are affecting everyday life, people may want surgery to remove them.
If an underlying condition is causing dry eyes or floaters, treating the condition may help resolve eye symptoms.
If people have any new floaters, they will need to speak with an eye doctor. If people have any sudden changes, flashes of light, or dark shadows over their eyes, they will need to seek immediate medical help.