Eye Floaters: Should I Worry?

Dr. Russel Lazarus, February 11, 2021

Eye floaters can be a sign of serious disease, but now eye doctors can successfully treat with a range of very effective options.

What are eye floaters?

Eye floaters are small spots that can appear in a variety of shapes and shadows. They tend to drift or “float” through the visual field, and have the tendency to become even more noticeable after looking at a bright image or walking to the outside from indoors.

It is estimated that around 30 percent of the population notice eye floaters, yet the impact of this common visual problem on our quality of life remains hugely underestimated.

Though floaters may be irritating, they generally become less noticeable overtime, and they should not interfere with your clarity of vision.

However, if eye floaters start to bother you or affect your quality of life your eye doctor may be able to help you.

If you have floaters, you may see:

  • Spots
  • Squiggly lines
  • Thread-like strands
  • Small shadowy shapes
  • Black or very dark spots

If eye floaters come on suddenly or change in shape or size, or you suddenly begin to see flashes in your visual field, contact your eye doctor immediately, as this may a sign of a serious retinal disease.

What causes eye floaters?

Floaters are made up of tiny pieces of protein, called collagen, that break off of the vitreous, or the jelly-like substance located in the back of the eye.

Posterior vitreous detachment (PVD)

As we age, the vitreous inside the eye begins to shrink and detach itself from the retina, this is called posterior vitreous detachment (PVD).

PVD is the most common cause of floaters and occurs when tiny fibers of collagen break away from the vitreous and join together, casting shadows onto the retina— and manifesting as floaters in your visual field.

Floaters can appear at any age, but typically begin to occur between ages 50 and 75. People who are nearsighted or who have undergone cataract surgery are more likely to experience floaters.

In rare cases, floaters can also result from:

Serious eye conditions that can cause floaters include:

  • Retinal detachment
  • Retinal tear
  • Bleeding in the vitreous
  • Inflamed vitreous or retina
  • Eye tumors

If you suspect you have an eye condition, contact an eye doctor near you, who can diagnose and treat the condition.

SEE RELATED: The 4 Frequent Eye Conditions

Find an eye doctor near you

When should I worry about eye floaters?

Contact your eye doctor immediately if you notice any of the following symptoms: 

  • A sudden and dramatic increase in the number of floaters
  • Flashes of light
  • Loss of peripheral vision
  • Progressive changes to your vision
  • Eye pain

The sooner you receive medical care, the greater your chances of protecting your vision and preventing vision loss. 

How can I get rid of floaters?

Floaters are a common occurrence and are a part of the natural aging process. If they begin to get on your nerves, believe it or not, moving your eyes up and down can make floaters disappear, at least temporarily.

Shifting your eyes up and down helps to move the eye fluid around and consequently, the collagen fibers as well.

In most cases, if floaters are not disrupting your quality of life, there is no need to treat them. 

However, if floaters begin to affect your vision clarity, your eye doctor may recommend a surgical procedure called a vitrectomy. This procedure involves removing the vitreous and replacing it with a specific saline solution.

It is important to be aware though, that while uncommon, this surgery can pose some risks to your vision, such as:

  • Retinal detachment
  • Retinal tear
  • Cataracts

If you notice floaters in your visual field, you can rest assured that in most cases, they are not a cause for concern. 

LEARN MORE:  Guide to Eye Conditions

It is always a good idea to schedule an eye exam if you experience any type of vision changes to rule out any serious eye conditions.

Keeping up with your regular eye exams is the best way to protect your eyes and to ensure a lifetime of good eye health and vision.