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Eye and Vision Care

Causes and Symptoms of Eye Floaters

Eye floaters are caused by the vitreous, the material inside your eye, changing over time. Initially, this material is gel-like, but over time it becomes more of a liquid. As the vitreous starts to shrink and becomes strand-like, solid pieces of tissue can be seen floating inside the eye. These are termed floaters, and they are often considered normal.

The number of floaters usually increases with a person's age, and floaters are also more common in those who are highly near-sighted or who have had trauma or surgery to the eyes.

Sometimes the entire vitreous can pull away from the retina, the inner lining of the eye. This is called a posterior vitreous detachment and can produce floaters in the shape of a ring or circle. The back part of the vitreous is tightly adhered to the optic nerve in the form of a circle. A posterior vitreous detachment happens when the ring of vitreous tissue that was adhered to the edges of the optic nerve falls forward and casts a shadow onto the retina behind it. This shadow is projected into one's vision as a spot, dot, ring, or squiggly mass.

Is Treatment an Option?

Usually, no treatment is recommended to eliminate floaters. The risks of an invasive surgery far outweigh the benefits of getting rid of floaters because floaters usually pose no real health risk. Gravity will eventually pull the floater down toward the bottom part of the eye and move it out of the vision, making it less noticeable and less distracting.

However, if you notice flashes of light in your vision or a sudden increase in the number of floaters in your vision, call your eye doctor immediately, as this could indicate a possible retinal tear or vitreous or retinal detachment.

More Serious Conditions

In a retinal detachment, the liquid vitreous begins to move around. As it moves, it can pull on the retina at the back of the eye, producing flashes of light or light spots that can be seen with the eyes open or closed. Symptoms of a retinal detachment are also sometimes described as a sudden shower of floaters or a curtain appearing over a portion of the vision, although not all patients with retinal detachment have symptoms.

If the vitreous pulls too hard on the retina, a retinal detachment can be induced, and this would require treatment. The best thing to do is to report to your eye doctor immediately if you note any of the symptoms of retinal detachment mentioned above, so that a dilated retinal examination may be done.

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Last Reviewed: May 02, 2011

Julia Rae Geldis, OD, MS Julia Rae Geldis, OD, MS
Clinical Assistant Professor of Optometry
College of Optometry
The Ohio State University