Eye floaters are small specks that drift across the field of vision. Eye floaters may appear as dots, lines, or even webs that float aimlessly across the eye. Seven out of ten people will experience them at some point in their lives. Eye floaters are especially noticeable when looking at something bright, like the sky, a piece of white paper, or a computer screen.
What are the symptoms of eye floaters?
You may be experiencing eye floaters if
- You notice spots or shadows in your field of vision that appear as dark flecks or squiggly lines;
- These spots or shadows move rapidly out of your field of vision when you try to focus on them;
- They are more noticeable when looking at something bright.
What causes eye floaters?
Most eye floaters are the result of the natural aging process and can be permanent. These eye floaters are formed from small bits of collagen, a protein that makes up part of the vitreous, a gel-like substance in the back of the eye. As we age, the proteins shrink down in the vitreous and then clump together. They cast shadows on the retina, and those shadows are what we see as eye floaters.
Eye floaters can also be caused by blood vessels bursting in the retina as the vitreous shrinks. However, this normally resolves on its own after the body reabsorbs the blood.
Eye floaters are most common in people aged 50-75, especially those who have previously undergone cataract surgery. Eye floaters are also not uncommon in younger people, though floaters in younger patients are typically related to nearsightedness (trouble focusing on distant objects).
When should you contact a doctor about eye floaters?
Eye floaters can be debilitating in some people. In mild cases, we can become accustomed to them and can learn to ignore them over time. However, having large eye floaters or a significant amount of eye floaters can have a severe detriment on a person’s daily life.
If you notice floaters along with a sudden bright flash, it is likely due to the vitreous pulling away from the retina, a condition known as posterior vitreous detachment (PVD). In this case, it is important to contact your doctor immediately.
Other warning signs are a sudden increase in the amount of floaters, peripheral vision loss, eye pain, or floaters that are caused by eye trauma or eye surgery. It is important to visit a retina specialist as soon as possible when experiencing such symptoms, as you may be in danger of experiencing permanent vision loss or blindness without treatment.
Some conditions associated with eye floaters include the following:
- Diabetic retinopathy
- Eye tumors
- Crystal-like deposits that have formed in the vitreous
- Detached retina
- Torn retina
- Bleeding in the vitreous
- Inflammation due to infections or autoimmune disorders
Eye floaters can also be associated with visual auras related to migraine headaches. This type of eye floater is different from the floaters and worrisome flashes that come with PVD. Visual disturbances associated with migraines can affect one or both eyes. Called ocular migraines (also called ophthalmic migraines, retinal migraines, and eye migraines), the visual symptoms will typically resolve on their own within 20-30 minutes.