Eye floaters, also called vitreous floaters, are small marks that appear to drift through your field of vision. They may appear as lines, rings or small dots and are usually more visible when you look at an unmarked surface in good light.
Many people experience eye floaters and for the most part, they learn to ignore them. In some cases, they may cause disturbances in your vision, which can be frustrating to deal with.
For the most part, eye floaters are not a cause for concern and occur naturally, especially in older people. However, in rare cases, eye floaters may be a sign of an underlying eye condition.
You should contact an optometrist if you suddenly experience many new eye floaters that are accompanied by flashes of light and part of your vision is obscured.
For the most part, eye floaters are caused by changes in the gel-like substance within your eye called vitreous. They can also be caused by conditions like diabetic retinopathy, injuries, infections and bleeding within the eye.
Changes in the vitreous which cause eye floaters are often due to ageing – as we age, the vitreous within our eyes contracts, forms tiny clumps and sometimes pulls away from the retina (vitreous detachment). This causes irregularities that cast shadows onto the retina and these are what we perceive as eye floaters.
It is rarer for eye floaters to be caused by other conditions, but they can develop in a variety of different ways. For example, diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes which often causes eye floaters due to leakage of blood into the vitreous. This is it is important to have eye floaters checked out when they are accompanied by vision loss or eye pain.
The most common types of eye floaters can happen to anyone but are more common in older people. Specifically, people over 50 are much more likely to experience eye floaters. This is because of natural changes that occur in the vitreous within your eyes.
If you are myopic (nearsighted) you are also more likely to have eye floaters. This is because the elongation of the eyeball that causes myopia affects the retina.
People who have had cataract surgery also have a higher prevalence of eye floaters. Existing eye floaters may simply be more noticeable after your surgery, but it is also possible that the surgery affected the vitreous leading to new eye floaters. In rare cases, this may be a sign of a complication with the surgery.
Eye injuries that affect the retina or vitreous within the eye can also lead to the development of floaters.
When you experience a direct blow to the eye, it is usually a good idea to have it checked out by an optometrist. Eye floaters may be one of the symptoms you experience that could signal a certain kind of damage to the eye.
Other conditions and symptoms like diabetic retinopathy, detached retina, inflammation and infection can also lead to eye floaters. However, eye floaters are often not related to any other issues with the eye.
Eye floaters come in a wide variety of types with different shapes and patterns. Sometimes they appear transparent, while other people experience them as tiny darkened spots in their vision. Spots, rings, lines, cobwebs and irregular shapes are often reported.
One characteristic of eye floaters is that they tend to move when you look at them. You are also most likely to notice them when looking at an unmarked surface like a clear blue sky. Once you have spotted an eye floater it may be difficult to ignore.
Eye floaters are usually not a cause for concern. They may be irritating at first, but most people will stop noticing them with time.
However, in rare instances, they may be a sign of a more serious condition like a detached retina. These are the signs to look out for:
A detached retina is a serious condition and requires immediate medical attention. If you notice these symptoms, you should seek urgent eye care.
Eye floaters are also a symptom of diabetic retinopathy. In this case, the symptoms are:
Diabetic retinopathy should be diagnosed as soon as possible, as it can have serious complications. If you experience these symptoms, contact an eye care professional.
Eye floaters have a variety of causes and it can be difficult to know if you should see an optometrist about them. Usually, eye floaters are not a cause for concern, but in some cases, they may be a sign of an underlying condition that should be addressed.
If you see the warning signs listed above, especially the sudden onset of many floaters, you should contact a medical professional. However, eye floaters may also happen alongside other symptoms or signs that it may be a good idea to have checked out.
If eye floaters are accompanied by any changes in your vision, it is a good idea to book a comprehensive eye exam. Whatever the cause, vision loss that affects your ability to do daily activities should be addressed to keep your eyes healthy. Similarly, if you experience eye pain or any direct trauma to the eyes it is a good idea to have them examined by a professional.
Your optometrist will be able to examine your eyes and assess your case based on your symptoms.
Diagnostic Tests for Eye Floaters
If you tell your optometrist you have been experiencing eye floaters, they will ask you some questions and carry out some tests to determine the cause. For example, they will likely ask you to describe the eye floaters, when you first noticed them and if they are accompanied by any other symptoms.
They will also carry out a visual acuity test. This will determine whether you have any overall issues with your vision.
They will also examine your inner eyes including your retinas. They may suggest an Ocular Coherence Tomography (OCT) scan, which is a technology designed to look at the different layers that make up the back of the eye. Otherwise, they may provide a different way to examine the retina.
Using a Dialated pupil exam, they can also examine the vitreous humour and retina. This can help them to identify vitreous detachment and other potential causes for eye floaters.
Depending on your exact symptoms and case history, your optometrist will be able to determine which tests are most appropriate.
For the most part, optometrists will not recommend treatment for eye floaters. While frustrating, they are usually harmless and people tend to get used to them with time. However, there are treatment options available which may be recommended when they obstruct vision.
One treatment is a vitrectomy. This is a surgery to remove the vitreous and replace it with a solution. Over time the eye will naturally replace the vitreous, in many cases with the abnormalities that caused the floaters. Vitrectomy is not always successful and can also cause bleeding, infection and even damage to the retina. Though these risks are not common, vitrectomy is only considered when eye floaters are severe.
The other main treatment option to remove eye floaters is a form of laser therapy. Using a laser, specialists can break up the clusters of cells causing eye floaters to be less noticeable or disappear altogether. This treatment is only effective for some people with certain kinds of eye floaters. There is also a risk of damage to the retina if the procedure is carried out incorrectly.
When eye floaters are caused by another condition, they can sometimes be reduced by treating the underlying problem.
There is no guaranteed way to prevent eye floaters and no home remedy that can be used to directly treat them. However, taking steps to protect your eyes and improve your eye health can help to reduce the risk of developing eye floaters.
As eye floaters can be a result of injury, taking the proper steps to protect your eyes is a good preventative measure. Wearing protective eyewear in situations with a risk of injury is a good practice.
Improving eye health is something you can do through lifestyle changes and by having your eyes regularly examined. Staying up-to-date with scheduled examinations will ensure any problem is caught early on. Looking after your diet, getting regular exercise and avoiding habits like smoking can also help to keep your eyes in good shape.
Eye floaters are usually a troublesome distraction rather than a serious concern. Nevertheless, understanding them can help you find the best way to manage them and spot the warning signs if they are a symptom of something more serious.
While eye floaters may be unavailable in some instances, prioritising your eye health can help you keep your vision as clear as possible. If you are experiencing eye floaters, chat with your optometrist about them during your next eye exam. They can give you the best advice on how to keep your eyes healthy and your vision clear.