Imagine having little specks of dirt on your glasses that you couldn’t get rid of. Or, if you don’t have glasses, you can imagine stubborn debris on your windshield. Either way, this is a bit like the frustration of having eye floaters.
Eye floaters are small spots in your vision that appear as black or gray specks, strings or cobwebs. The floaters drift slowly (as your gaze shifts) but dart swiftly away when you try to look right at them.
Demystifying eye floaters
The majority of eye floaters are harmless — they’re simply caused by the aging process. As we age, the vitreous (aka jelly-like substance) inside the eye becomes more liquid and microscopic fibers clump together, casting shadows on the retina. These shadows appear as eye floaters that move about as your eyes move (because they’re in the fluid of your eyes).
Eye floaters are typically most pronounced when you stare at a bright, plain surface (i.e. the sky, or a piece of white paper). The floaters might be present in one or both eyes, and they’re most common after the age of 50.
Causes of eye floaters
The most common cause of eye floaters is aging, however, less common causes include:
- Eye injury.
- Inflammation in the back of the eye (posterior uveitis)
- Diabetic retinopathy (diabetes damages the blood vessels leading to the retina)
- Crystal-like deposits that form in the vitreous, interfering with light passing through the eye
- Bleeding in the eye (diabetes, hypertension, blocked blood vessels and injury can be a few of the causes of this)
- Torn retina (must be treated immediately)
- Eye surgeries and eye medications that cause air bubbles to form in the vitreous
- Intraocular tumors
- Ocular migraine
When to seek help for eye floaters
If your eye floaters begin appearing more frequently or change in intensity/size, call your ophthalmologist or eye care provider immediately. Additionally, if flashes of light accompany your floaters, you develop eye pain, or your vision becomes blurred/you lose your vision completely, seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Though most eye floaters are only a nuisance that doesn’t require treatment, the above instances may be indicative of a more serious ocular issue that carries serious risk.