©2018 WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved. eMedicineHealth does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. See Additional Information.

Eye Diseases and Conditions

Picture of Floaters

Picture of Floaters

Eye floaters are the little blobs, spots, specks, and squiggles that appear to float through the field of vision. They are small and dark, and tend to appear when looking at a bright surface like the blue sky or a piece of white paper. Most people have eye floaters, and while they can be annoying, people usually learn to ignore them. While eye floaters are typically harmless, they can sometimes signal more significant health problems.

Eye floaters typically result from the natural aging process. About 80 percent of the eye is comprised of a jelly-like substance called vitreous. The vitreous slowly shrinks as we age, and as it shrinks, vitreous becomes a bit stringy. Those stringy vitreous strands cast a shadow on the retina (the part of the eye where light is projected), and eye floaters are the result. Eye floaters tend to become less noticeable as the vitreous strands eventually settle near the bottom of the eye.

People who are nearsighted, affected by diabetes, or who have undergone cataract surgery are more likely to develop eye floaters.

Sometimes, a sudden increase in eye floaters can signal an emergency condition called retinal detachment, particularly when accompanied by flashes of light in one's peripheral vision or a loss of peripheral vision. If left untreated for more than 2 or 3 days, retinal detachment can permanently damage vision or even lead to blindness. Eye floaters can also sometimes be caused by more serious problems, including infection, inflammation, hemorrhage, retinal tears, and eye injury.

If eye floaters cause significant vision problems, an eye specialist may recommend surgery to replace the vitreous in the eye with a salt solution. That surgery comes with certain risks like retinal detachment, retinal tears, and cataracts, so unless eye floaters cause significant problems, surgery is not usually recommended.

Image Source: MedicineNet, Inc.

Text Reference: National Eye Institute: “Facts About Floaters”