Eye floaters are dark spots that move across your field of vision. They typically appear as specks, circles, cobwebs, or squiggly lines. You may notice floaters when staring at something plain, like a white wall or blue sky. Floaters can be startling when you see them for the first time, but they’re common.
Floaters occur when clumps of protein form in the vitreous, casting shadows that you see as spots moving across your line of vision.
Eye floaters are a common and benign occurrence. However, they can also be associated with complications such as retinal holes or tears, retinal detachment, vitreous hemorrhage, inflammation, and infection.
See your eye doctor promptly if you have a sudden increase in floaters, flashes, red spots in your vision, shadows over your vision, or eye pain.
Most eye floaters don’t need treatment. If there are complications, your eye surgeon may perform laser, surgery, or administer medications to treat the underlying cause.
How floaters appear in your eyes?
Our eyeballs are filled with a gel-like substance called vitreous humor. The vitreous takes up 80% of the volume inside our eye. Its composition consists almost entirely of water, with a small percentage of collagen protein and hyaluronic acid.
The vitreous maintains the shape of the eye, provides a transparent medium for light to pass through, and circulates nutrients in the eye. The vitreous is also attached to other structures in the eye, such as the retina (sensory tissue lining the back of the eye), optic nerve, and blood vessels.
Although the vitreous is clear, occasionally, you can get clumps of collagen. As these clumps move around inside the vitreous, they cast a shadow that you see as a floater.
Risk factors for eye floaters
Anyone can get floaters, but older people are more likely to experience them. As we age, the vitreous shrinks and liquefies, often resulting in detachment of the vitreous from the retina (posterior vitreous detachment). Posterior vitreous detachments can cause large floaters, blurry spots in the vision, and flashes of light. This process is natural and usually doesn’t require medical intervention.
Other risk factors for floaters include:
- Myopia (nearsightedness)
- Eye surgery (such as cataracts)
- Eye trauma
- Diabetes or hypertension
- Eye inflammation (uveitis)
- Eye tumors
Can eye floaters indicate a more serious issue?
Most floaters are harmless and don’t cause any problems. However, if you notice a sudden increase in floaters, flashes of light, red spots in your vision, curtains over your vision, or eye pain, see your eye doctor immediately. These symptoms could be a sign of more complicated issues, such as:
- Retinal hole or tear
- Retinal detachment
- Vitreous hemorrhage (bleeding)
- Inflammation in the vitreous or retina-Severe eye infection (endophthalmitis)
Additionally, migraine auras are visual symptoms that can look like floaters. While some people get headaches, others see black spots, flashes, kaleidoscope-like images, tunnel vision, or zigzag lines. It’s essential to consult your eye and medical doctors to determine the underlying cause of your symptoms.
Eye floater treatment methods
Eye floaters may be annoying, but they don’t need treatment if they’re not causing any problems. Your brain learns to ignore them, and they can fade over time. Unfortunately, there aren’t any home remedies that are proven to get rid of floaters. Studies suggest that some antioxidants can improve floaters, but more data is needed.
However, if you have a large floater that affects vision or there are eye complications, you may need medical treatment such as:
- Laser vitreolysis. This uses a laser to break up floaters. Because this treatment is somewhat controversial, most surgeons aren’t recommending this procedure unless medically necessary. Experts suggest that more medical evidence is needed to determine the effectiveness of this procedure.
- Vitrectomy. This is a surgery in which the vitreous is removed and replaced with a gas bubble, silicone oil, or other solution. Your surgeon may perform a vitrectomy if you have a retinal detachment, vitreous hemorrhage, diabetic retinopathy, or severe eye infection.
- Photocoagulation (laser) or cryopexy (freezing). These are treatments to seal off holes or tears in the retina. The surgeon also uses these techniques to treat abnormal, leaky blood vessels that form in diabetic retinopathy or other eye diseases.
- Medications. This includes medications such as steroids or antibiotics to treat inflammation or infection in the eye. Therapy may be administered as an eye injection, eye drops, or pills. Your doctor may also order lab tests to determine if an underlying autoimmune disease, systemic infection, or other condition is causing these problems.
Eye floaters are common and typically harmless. They may never disappear entirely, but usually improve over time. However, if you experience new floaters, changes in your floaters, or other eye symptoms, consult your eye doctor promptly. It could be a sign of serious complications that require treatment.
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