What are eye floaters?
Floaters are small dark shapes that float across your vision. They can resemble dots, specks or lines.
Most people experience temporary floaters that do not require treatment as they go away on their own. However, for more severe or persistent cases, eye floaters may obstruct vision and require removal.
Causes of floaters
Floaters are caused by the gel-like fluid in your eye (vitreous) becoming more liquid as you age. As you age, small strands of the vitreous clump together and cast shadows on your retina, which are the tiny specks or dots that you see. As floaters are largely age-related, people 60 years old and above are more likely to experience floaters.
Most people experience floaters at one point or another, but in most cases, the floaters end up sinking and settling at the bottom of the eye, below the field of vision. Hence, the floaters are no longer noticeable.
However, some people experience more serious cases of floaters. Such cases include:
- Eye infections
- Eye injuries
- Eye inflammation
- Bleeding in the eye
- Retinal detachment
- Retinal tear
- Diabetic Retinopathy
Some people are also at higher risk for floaters than others, due to:
- Being nearsighted
- Having diabetes
- Having previous surgery to treat cataracts
Symptoms of floaters
Floaters look like tiny shapes such as dots, specks, rings, cobweb shapes or other irregular shapes. Floaters seem to float across your vision when your eyes are not moving, but move when your eyes move. Trying to look directly at a floater usually results in the floater moving in the opposite direction.
Floaters are likely to be more noticeable when looking at something bright like a clear blue sky or a sheet of white paper. Floaters may appear as darker or lighter than the rest of your field of vision. Other times, the area where the floaters are located may appear more blurry than the rest of the field of vision.
When should you be concerned?
Most cases of floaters are not causes for concern as they occur naturally. However, in certain instances, an eye doctor should be consulted as soon as possible. These situations include:
- A lot more floaters than usual
- Sudden increase in number of floaters
- Flashes of light in the same eye as the floaters
- Darkness on any side of your vision in the same eye as the floaters (peripheral vision loss)
- Persistent floaters that interfere with your vision
When consulting an eye doctor, they will perform a dilated eye exam to check for floaters and other eye problems such as retinal tears. This exam is done by administering eye drops that widen (dilate) your pupil, allowing the eye doctor to examine your eye. This exam is typically painless. You may only experience some discomfort if the doctor presses on your eyelids to check for retinal tears.
Treatment of floaters
In most cases, the best way to deal with floaters would be to ignore them. Overtime, they will either disappear to the bottom of your eye or your brain will learn to ignore them, making them no longer noticeable.
In more serious cases, where the floaters are caused by an underlying eye problem, the eye doctor will treat that eye problem.
For rare cases where the floaters require removal, the most common treatment is a vitrectomy. During the procedure, the eye doctor will surgically remove the vitreous gel that is causing the floater and replace it with a solution to maintain the shape of your eye. This procedure is usually only used for severe cases of floaters as it comes with risks.
An alternative to the surgical method would be laser vitreolysis, where lasers are aimed at the floaters to break them up or dissolve them, making them less noticeable. However, this method is not preferred as it is still experimental. Discuss the options with your eye doctor if you are experiencing severe symptoms of eye floaters.
Reducing risk of floaters
There is no guaranteed way to prevent eye floaters. However, maintaining good eye health can help reduce risks of getting floaters. One can adopt good lifestyle habits such as:
- Maintaining a healthy diet and incorporating leafy greens, salmon and citrus fruits
- Quitting smoking
- Wearing protective eyewear when necessary to protect your eyes from injury
- Wearing sunglasses when outdoors during the day
- Taking breaks to rest your eyes