What Are Eye Floaters? Symptoms, Causes, and More

Medically Reviewed By Ann Marie Griff, O.D.
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Eye floaters are small dots or shapes in your field of vision. They can appear as specks, dots, strings, squiggles, or cobwebs. Floaters are most noticeable when you look at something plain and bright, such as the sky, white paper, or a computer monitor. Floaters are remnants of the vitreous, which is a gel-like substance that fills the eyeball. As you age, the vitreous tends to liquefy and change consistency. When this happens, microscopic clumps and strands of collagen can form.

Floaters often drift in your field of vision. They may appear to follow your vision as your eyes move. They float away when you try to look directly at them.

Read on to find out more about the symptoms and causes of eye floaters. This article also discusses treatments, when to contact a doctor, and more.

What are the symptoms of eye floaters?

Eye Floaters
Print Illustration by Maya Chastain

Eye floaters are small shapes that drift into your field of vision. You may notice that they are more visible when you look at the sky or some other bright light.

The floaters can look like:

  • tiny dots
  • flecks
  • little bubbles
  • threads or strings
  • squiggles
  • cobwebs

You will find that the floaters move as you move your eye. Because of this, they are difficult to look at directly.

Learn about seeing spots.

What are floaters and flashes?

Floaters and flashes are two eye symptoms that can happen around the same time. They most commonly affect older adults.

Alongside eye floaters, you may experience flashes of light. Neither symptom is usually a cause for concern. However, because they may occur due to retinal detachment, it’s important to contact your eye doctor for advice.

Learn more about seeing flashes or stars.

What causes eye floaters?

In most cases, aging is the cause of eye floaters. The aging process changes the vitreous, which is the gel-like substance that fills the eyeball. Aging can cause the vitreous to condense, liquify, and change consistency.

The clumps of degenerated collagen that form floaters drift can in and out of your field of vision. As they move within your eye, they cast a shadow on your retina. The retina is a layer of tissue at the back of your eye that processes light. When you see a floater, you are actually seeing its shadow, not the floater itself.

Other causes

In addition to age, eye floaters can also result from other eye conditions. Possible causes include:

What are the treatments for eye floaters?

You may not require treatment for eye floaters if they result from age and don’t cause any problems.

However, if eye floaters result from an eye condition or injury, treatment may be necessary. The type of treatment will depend on the underlying cause. Your doctor can provide more information about what treatments they recommend for your individual condition.

Your doctor may also recommend vitrectomy surgery. This involves removing some or all of the vitreous. If your doctor recommends a vitrectomy, they can explain more about the procedure.

When should I see a doctor?

Contact your doctor if you have concerns about eye floaters. While they can occur naturally with age, an accurate diagnosis can rule out other, more serious causes.

Additionally, contact your doctor if you experience:

  • persistent flashes of light in your peripheral vision
  • sudden deterioration of vision
  • darkness covering part of your vision or at the sides of your vision
  • sudden appearance of floaters
  • sudden increase in the number of floaters

How do doctors diagnose the cause of eye floaters?

An eye doctor, such as an optometrist or ophthalmologist, can diagnose the cause of eye floaters. To help reach an accurate diagnosis, they may ask questions about your symptoms and general health.

They may then carry out a dilated eye exam. This involves using eye drops to dilate your pupils. After this, they use an indirect ophthalmoscope device to examine the back of your eyes.

Usually, you won’t feel any pain during the dilated eye exam. However, you may feel some discomfort as your doctor examines your eyes up close.

What are the risk factors for eye floaters?

You are more likely to develop eye floaters if you:

  • have nearsighted vision
  • have diabetes
  • have had cataract surgery
  • are over the age of 50 years, as there is an increased risk of vitreous detachment

Contact your doctor if you have concerns about the risks of eye floaters or vitreous detachment.

Can I prevent eye floaters?

As eye floaters can occur as a natural part of aging, it may not be possible to prevent them.

However, you may be able to take steps to reduce their visibility. As floaters are more visible when looking at something bright, it may help to wear sunglasses when outdoors. Additionally, you can use a display to filter the brightness of a phones or computer screens .

Other frequently asked questions

Here are some more frequently asked questions about eye floaters.

What is the main cause of eye floaters?

Aging is the main cause of eye floaters. Floaters occur due to natural changes in the vitreous, which are common with age.

Are floaters in the eye serious?

Eye floaters are generally not serious. However, they can sometimes result from injury, infection, or underlying condition. As such, it’s important to attend regular eye appointments and speak with your doctor if you have concerns.

How do I get rid of floaters in my vision?

Taking steps to minimize bright lights, such as wearing sunglasses when outdoors, may help reduce eye floaters. If eye floaters are bothersome, your doctor may recommend vitrectomy surgery.

Summary

Eye floaters are small shapes that appear in your field of vision. If you try to look directly at them, they can appear to move.

Floaters can occur naturally with age as the vitreous in the eyeball changes consistency. They are not usually a cause for concern.

However, floaters may also occur due to an injury or a problem with your eye. If you have concerns about eye floaters, it’s important to contact your doctor for advice. They can perform a dilated eye exam to get a better look at your eyes and recommend treatment, if necessary.

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Medical Reviewer: Ann Marie Griff, O.D.
Last Review Date: 2022 Dec 20
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