Most of us have seen strange shapes floating in our vision from time to time and those tiny spots, specks and flecks that drift aimlessly around our field of vision are otherwise known as floaters.
What Are Eye Floaters?
Floaters in the eye are caused by a small pieces of debris that float in the vitreous humour of the eye. The vitreous humour is a clear, jelly-like substance that helps maintain the eye’s shape. Debris within the vitreous humour casts a shadow on the retina at the back of the eye, and appears to ‘float’ in your field of vision. So while these eye floaters look like they are in front of your eye, they are actually floating inside it.
Floaters in eyes can appear in a variety of shapes and sizes such as:
- Black dots
- Threads or strings
What Causes Eye Floaters?
As you age, the protein fibers that make up the vitreous shrink down to little shreds that clump together, and this causes the floaters on your retina. These changes can happen at any age, but usually occur between 50 and 75. They are also more visible if you gaze at a clear or overcast sky or a computer screen with a white or light-colored background. These specks never seem to stay still when you try to focus on them. Floaters and spots move when your eye and the vitreous gel inside the eye moves, creating the impression that they are “floating.”
Ordinarily, they are very common and usually aren’t cause for concern. In fact, according to Harvard health, about one quarter of people have some vitreous shrinkage with floaters by their 60s, and two-thirds of people develop them by the time they are 80 years old.
Other causes of floaters include:
- Eye injury: A blow to the eye can cause blood vessels to leak into the vitreous humour and result in more floaters.
- Inflammation or infection: Floaters can also be a symptom of uveitis, an inflammation of the eye’s middle layer that may be caused by infection or autoimmune disease.
- Nearsightedness: Nearsighted People are more likely to have floaters because their eyes are elongated, which can cause the vitreous humour to pull away from the retina.
- Diabetes: Diabetes can damage the tiny blood vessels in the retina and lead to floaters. If these vessels break, the retina may not interpret the light correctly, resulting in floaters.
- Intraocular tumours and ocular migraine: Although these are rare causes of floaters, they can be severe and should be checked by an eye doctor.
- Deposits in the vitreous: Small flecks of calcium or other substances can deposit in the vitreous and cast shadows on the retina, causing floaters.
When Should I Worry About Eye Floaters and Flashes?
While floaters are generally nothing to worry about, there are some instances in which they can be cause for concern. Call your doctor immediately if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- A sudden increase in floaters or flashes
- Pain in the eye
- Loss of peripheral vision (side vision)
- Blurry vision
These could be signs of a more severe condition. Some of these conditions include:
A vitreous detachment or tear can occur when the vitreous humour shrinks and pulls away from the retina. When this happens, you may see a shower of floaters or even flashes of light. If you experience these symptoms, you should see an eye doctor immediately, as they could be signs of a torn retina.
A vitreous haemorrhage occurs when blood vessels in the eye leak into the vitreous humour. This can result from diabetes, eye injury, or vitreous detachment. A vitreous haemorrhage can cause a sudden increase in floaters and make it difficult to see. If you experience these symptoms, you should see an eye doctor right away.
A retinal detachment occurs when the retina pulls away from the back of the eye. This can happen as a result of vitreous detachment or vitreous haemorrhage. Retinal detachment is a serious condition that can lead to blindness. If you experience a sudden increase in floaters, flashes of light, or blurry vision, you should see an eye doctor immediately, as these could be signs of a retinal detachment.
Eye Floaters Treatment
In most cases, floaters do not cause major problems and do not require treatment. After a while, your brain learns to ignore them and you may not even notice them. If a floater appears in your direct line of vision, moving your eye up and down may help. This causes the vitreous humour in your eye to move around, which can shift the floater elsewhere.
Floaters can also be a symptom of retinal tears. By the time half of people reach 50, the vitreous humour has separated from the retina. Generally, this is normal – but sometimes it can pull on the retina, causing blood vessels within it to burst. This is what is called a retinal tear. Floaters are not always a sign of a retinal tear, but if you suspect you may have one you need to make an appointment with an eye doctor. Having a retinal tear puts you at risk of retinal detachment, which is when the retina detaches from the rest of your eye and this can cause blindness. However, this is extremely rare – Only one in every 10,000 people will develop it in any given year in the UK.
You should always mention any vision changes or eye problems, whether floaters or something else, to your optician during your regular examinations. Floaters are occasionally only visible during eye examinations, especially if they are close to your retina.
A comprehensive dilated eye exam can help your doctor determine if vitreous humour has shrunk enough to pull away from the retina and if a retinal tear has occurred. This type of exam is essential for people who are over 50 or have a family history of retinal detachment.
If you have a retinal tear, a few different treatment options can help prevent it from progressing to a retinal detachment. Your doctor will discuss these options with you and help you choose the best one for your case.
Can Laser Eye Surgery Cause Eye Floaters?
Although most patients don’t experience any side effects from laser eye surgery, floaters may occasionally appear or increase. This seems to happen mainly for patients with very high shortsightedness (myopia).
Not only that, patients are likely to pay much more attention to their vision after surgery and may become more aware of the natural presence of the floater. However, the awareness of them will decrease and are rarely a long-term issue.
How Do You Treat Posterior Vitreous Detachment?
Posterior vitreous detachment (PVD) is a condition that usually affects people over 50. It happens when the vitreous pulls away from the retina (the light-sensitive layer at the back of the eye). The vitreous is a gel-like substance that fills the inside of the eye, giving it its round shape.
PVD is a natural ageing process and usually doesn’t need any treatment. However, in some cases, though rare, it can lead to a retinal tear or detachment. Surgery will be required to reattach the torn retina to treat a retinal tear.
What Causes Floaters in Your Eyes?
The natural aging process usually causes floaters. As you age, the gel-like substance (vitreous) in your eyes becomes more liquid. Microscopic fibres within the vitreous begin to clump and cast tiny shadows on your retina. These are the floaters that you see in your field of vision.
Floaters can also be caused by other conditions such as:
- Bleeding in the eye
- Inflammation in the back of the eye
- Tears in the retina
- Use of certain medications, such as steroids
Is a Floater in Your Eye Serious?
According to the National Eye Institute, most floaters are typically harmless and don’t require any treatment. However, they can sometimes signify a more severe condition, such as retinal detachment or bleeding in the eye. If you experience more floaters, flashes of light, or pain in your eye, you should see an eye doctor immediately.
How Do I Get Rid of Floaters in My Vision?
No treatment can get rid of floaters permanently. However, some treatments can help to make them less bothersome or noticeable.
Some of the treatment options for floaters include:
- Wearing an eye patch
- Taking breaks from looking at screens
- Wearing glasses or sunglasses
- Exercising your eyes
- Using eye drops
You may need a vitrectomy or laser surgery if your floaters are severe. A vitrectomy is a surgical procedure to remove the vitreous from your eye. Laser surgery is a procedure that uses lasers to break up the floaters into smaller pieces, so they are less noticeable.
Can Eye Drops Help With Floaters?
There are no over-the-counter eye drops that can reduce or eliminate floaters. Simply put, once you have floaters, you’re stuck with them. No medical treatments, vitamins, supplements, or exercises can get rid of them. However, if you’re struggling with floaters, there are some things you can do to make them less bothersome.