What Are Eye Floaters?

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

Eye floaters, also called vitreous floaters, are shapes that appear in your line of vision. They can look like dots, squiggly lines, threads, or other shapes.

Eye floaters can develop as a normal part of aging. They are caused by small strands from the vitreous gel-like fluid in the eye that clump together and cause you to "see" the effects of the clump in the back of your eye.

Potential Causes of Eye Floaters

Verywell / Theresa Chiechi

Eye Floater Symptoms

Symptoms of eye floaters include:

  • You see shapes that can look like black or gray dots, cobwebs, squiggly lines, or threads.
  • The shapes go away when you try to look at them directly.
  • The shapes appear to move around.
  • You can usually see the floaters more clearly when looking at a blank or bright surface, like a plain wall.

Flashes of Light and Eye Floaters

Some people may also experience associated photopsia (seeing flashes of light).

The light flashes may look like:

  • A camera flash
  • Lightning
  • Stars

You can see these flashes of light when the vitreous gel in your eye rubs or pulls on your retina. Like floaters, flashes of light are more common with aging. However, you should see an eye doctor as soon as possible if you experience recurrent flashes, especially if you've never had them before.

Signs of Complications

Although eye floaters are usually normal, they sometimes indicate a serious problem, such as a retinal tear or a retinal detachment.

The retina is a light-sensitive tissue that generates vision. It is possible for the retina to tear. A retinal tear can turn into a retinal detachment. A retinal detachment is when the retina pulls away from its normal position in the back of the eye. A severe retinal detachment can cause you to lose some or all of your vision.

With a retinal tear or detachment, there are usually many more floaters than what you would usually experience with normal aging.

Other signs of a retinal tear or retinal detachment include:

  • Light flashes in one or both eyes
  • A dark shadow (also described as a gray curtain) in your peripheral vision or in the middle of your vision

You should get prompt medical attention if you experience these signs of a retinal tear or retinal detachment.

Causes

The most common cause of eye floaters is aging, particularly after age 50. As the vitreous in your eye becomes smaller, strands of the vitreous fluid can group together and form what may look like different shapes. These send a message to your brain to create the eye floaters that you see.

Other causes of eye floaters include:

  • A retinal tear
  • Blood in the eye
  • Diabetes or diabetic retinopathy
  • Inflammation in the eye
  • Recent intraocular surgery, such as cataract surgery
  • Retinal detachment
  • Trauma to the eye, such as an injury

Nearsighted? You're at Risk for Floaters

If you have myopia (nearsightedness), this means that you can see things close to you—but objects farther away appear blurry. Nearsightedness puts you at a higher risk of developing eye floaters. This is because myopia is caused by an elongated eyeball. You also are at a higher risk for a retinal tear or detachment if you are nearsighted.

It's possible to confuse floaters with certain vision changes associated with diseases, such as:

It's not always possible to know the cause of eye floaters. This is why you should discuss your symptoms with an eye doctor.

Diagnosis

An eye doctor will use several techniques to diagnose the cause of your eye floaters. You will likely have a dilated eye exam. To dilate your eyes, your doctor will put drops in your eyes to make the pupil open wider.

When your pupils are dilated, your doctor can visualize the vitreous and the structures at the back of your eyes. This can help identify the cause of your eye floaters and will help detect problems like retinal detachment and diabetic eye disease.

Your eye doctor might also use an eye ultrasound exam. Before the ultrasound, you will receive numbing drops. Next, your doctor will place a transducer, which looks like a wand, over the front of your eyes. The sound waves from the ultrasound form a picture of the eye. This assists in looking for damage to the retina.

Your eye doctor also may take photographs of your retina as part of the diagnostic process.

Treatment

You should let your eye doctor know if you are having eye floaters. If eye floaters are bothering you or if they have a medical cause, there are some treatment options.

Most people find that their floaters decrease over a couple of months and learn to tolerate them. If the eye floaters are not bothering you and you don't have an underlying condition causing them, then you don't need to be treated.

Surgery

If the floaters are very troublesome for you, your eye doctor might recommend a vitrectomy. This is a type of eye surgery that's done to remove the vitreous of the eye. Your surgeon would remove the vitreous through a small incision. Next, a fluid that works similarly to the vitreous is inserted to help your eye keep its shape.

A vitrectomy won't remove all of your eye floaters, and it is generally considered only for the most bothersome cases of eye floaters.

The surgery is also associated with some risks, including:

  • Cataract formation
  • Macular pucker (the formation of scar tissue over the retina)
  • Retinal tear or detachment
  • Swelling in the eye

Laser Vitreolysis for Floaters

Laser vitreolysis is another option less commonly used for the treatment of eye floaters. During a laser vitreolysis procedure, your ophthalmologist will use a laser to break apart floaters. The idea is that you will not notice the floaters as much.

For some patients, laser vitreolysis works. For others, it doesn't. Laser vitreolysis is controversial because there is not a lot of guidance available for the procedure.

A Word From Verywell

Eye floaters are a normal part of aging. They should not be a problem unless you see many of them all of a sudden or if you have associated symptoms. Be sure to get regular eye exams so any eye problems you have can be caught at an early stage, and discuss any floaters you see with your eye doctor.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Society of Retina Specialists. Vitrectomy for floaters.

  2. Cleveland Clinic. Eye floaters & flashes.

  3. American Society of Retina Specialists. Retinal tears.

  4. American Academy of Ophthalmology. Floaters and flashes treatment.

  5. American Academy of Ophthalmology. Nearsightedness: What is myopia?

  6. Kellogg Eye Center. Floaters and flashes.

  7. National Eye Institute. Get a dilated eye exam. Updated Aug. 2, 2019.

  8. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Eye and orbit ultrasound.

  9. Katsanos A, et al. Safety and efficacy of YAG laser vitreolysis for the treatment of vitreous floaters: An overview. Adv. Ther. 2020;37:1319-1327. doi:10.1007/s12325-020-01261-w