Illustration of eye floaters against a blue sky.
Illustration of eye floaters against a blue sky.
Illustration of eye floaters against a blue sky.

Eye Floaters

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Eye floaters generally look like moving spots that can take many shapes (some people describe them as looking like bugs or jellyfish or cobwebs) and disrupt your field of vision. They are most commonly a normal part of aging, but can sometimes be a sign of something serious. An ophthalmologist or retina specialist can help to assess whether floaters are benign or are cause for concern. A dilated eye exam is necessary to assess possible causes of floaters.

Retina specialist Sophie Cai, M.D. explains what you should know about eye floaters.

What are eye floaters?

Eye floaters appear as specks of various shapes and sizes that move across your field of vision. These specks represent cells, clumps of collagen proteins, or debris that are present within the vitreous gel, which fills the back of the eye. They can interfere with vision by casting a shadow on the retina. They may be most obvious when looking at a something bright white.

What causes eye floaters?

Eye floaters are most commonly a result of normal aging-related changes in the vitreous gel. As we get older, an acute development of a big central floater is a common symptom of a posterior vitreous detachment, where the vitreous gel separates from the back of the eye.

While floaters from a posterior vitreous detachment are generally benign, it is important to get a dilated exam when there is a new onset of floaters to ensure that these are not a sign of a retinal tear or retinal detachment. Floaters can also be caused by bleeding in the eye from conditions such as retinal tears or diabetic retinopathy, or various infectious or inflammatory conditions.

If floaters are brand new, accompanied by a shadow blocking part of the vision, or accompanied by pain or eye redness or blurry vision, it is important to get a dilated eye exam right away.

Symptoms of Eye Floaters

Eye floaters can look like small specks, string-like shapes, or cobwebs that move in your field of vision. They can be painless and may not interfere with your ability to see around them.

Are eye floaters a cause for concern?

Most eye floaters are harmless and become less noticeable with time as your vitreous liquefies with aging and separates from the retina. A rapid increase in the number of floaters, shadow blocking part of the visual field, or eye pain or redness or blurry vision accompanying the floaters, can be cause for concern and merit prompt evaluation by an ophthalmologist or retina specialist.

Call an ophthalmologist or retina specialist right away if you have:

  • A sudden increase in number of floaters
  • A shadow blocking part of your visual field
  • Eye pain or redness associated with your floaters
  • Diabetes and new floaters
  • A history of high nearsightedness or
  • A history of trauma to the eye and new floaters

Depending on the findings of the eye exam, your doctor will decide if you need any treatment.

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