Eye floaters – causes, symptoms, and treatment

By: Dr. Victor Marchione | Eye Health | Monday, August 22, 2016 - 03:30 PM

eye floatersEye floaters are spots moving through your field of vision. They may appear black or grey, stringy or cobweb-like, they may move, drift, or dart when you move your eyes. Many eye floaters are brought on by age-related changes in the eyes – for example, when the jellylike substance of the eye becomes liquefied. If eye floaters appear and increase quickly or suddenly, you should see an eye specialist right away.

There are many different reasons for eye floaters. Some are harmless and others require immediate medical attention. Here we will outline the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for eye floaters.

Causes of eye floaters

Eye floaters usually appear when a piece of debris floats in the vitreous humor, the transparent jellylike substance filling the eyeball behind the lens. This is commonly associated with the aging processes, so eye floaters are mainly seen in those over the age of 40.

As you age, the vitreous humor becomes softer and the strands of collagen become visible. These collagen strands may appear to swirl around when you try to look at them and move your eye.

When the light travels through the vitreous humor to the retina, the image is transmitted to the brain through the optic nerve. When present, debris in the vitreous humor cast a shadow, so floaters appear.

Another cause of eye floaters is posterior vitreous detachment, which is most common in those over the age of 65. Posterior vitreous detachment can be a result of age-related changes to the vitreous humor. When the vitreous humor gets more liquid, the cortex of the eye shrinks away from the retina. As a result, floaters begin to appear.

Other causes of eye floaters include retinal tears, retinal detachment, infection, uveitis (inflammation of the eye), eye injury, diabetes, and myopia (short-sightedness).

Eye floaters may impact one’s vision, so it’s important that you have your eyes checked out to ensure that eye floaters are not associated with any serious vision issue.

Eye floaters: Signs and risk factors

Dry eyes signsSymptoms of eye floaters include seeing spots in your field of vision, grey or black spots, cobweb-looking lines or strings, spots that move when you move your eye trying to look at them, spots that are more noticeable when you look at something plain or bright, and spots that eventually settle and move away from your line of vision.

Risk factors for eye floaters include being of older age, nearsightedness, eye trauma, complications resulting from cataract surgery, diabetic retinopathy, and eye inflammation.

Diagnosis and treatment for eye floaters

When it comes to eye floaters, the process of diagnosing is fairly simple. Your ophthalmologist will conduct a thorough eye examination, which may include dilating the eyes. In many cases, eye floaters do not require treatment in the absence of a problem. Eventually, you will be able to ignore them or not even notice their presence. In cases where treatment is required, some options are:

  • Using a laser to disrupt the floaters, breaking them up and making them less noticeable
  • Removing the vitreous humor surgically

For the most part, you will have to continue to monitor your eye floaters to ensure they are not worsening and impacting your vision. Follow-up appointments are necessary to ensure no other complications have developed.

When to call a doctor for eye floaters

You should see a doctor immediately if you have more eye floaters, there is a sudden onset of new eye floaters, you begin to see flashes of light, and if you experience peripheral vision loss (side vision loss). These symptoms could signify a retinal tear or retinal detachment, which could contribute to vision loss if not taken care of right away.

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