Eye floaters look like black or gray specks, strings or cobwebs that drift about when you move your eyes. Most eye floaters are caused by age-related changes that occur as the jelly-like substance (vitreous humor) inside your eyes becomes more liquid.
When this happens, microscopic fibers within the vitreous humor tend to clump together and can cast tiny shadows on your retina, which you may see as eye floaters.
If you notice a sudden increase in the number of eye floaters, contact an eye specialist immediately — especially if you also see flashes of light or lose your peripheral vision. These can be symptoms of a retinal tear or a retinal detachment, which requires prompt attention.
Eye floaters may look like dark specks or knobby, transparent strings of material floating within your field of vision. These specks and strings move when you move your eyes, so when you try to look at them, they move quickly out of your visual field. In most cases, the floaters eventually settle down to the bottom of the vitreous cavity out of the line of vision. In rare instances, eye floaters can become so numerous that they significantly interfere with your vision.
Eye floaters are most noticeable when you look at a plain bright background such as a blue sky or a white wall. They can be a nuisance, but most people learn to ignore them.
When to see a doctor
As you age, the vitreous humor — a jelly-like material inside your eyes — becomes more liquid. When this happens, microscopic collagen fibers within the vitreous humor tend to clump ...
Eye floaters most commonly occur as a result of age-related changes in the vitreous humor, the jelly-like substance that fills your eyeballs and helps maintain their round shape. Millions of fine fibers are intertwined within the vitreous humor. These fibers are attached to the retina, the light-sensitive tissue that lines the back of your eyes.
Changes occur with age
Usually, these changes in the vitreous humor occur gradually. But in some cases, a section of the vitreous humor will pull away from the retina suddenly — causing many new floaters to appear all at once. You might also see flashes of light when the fine fibers in the vitreous humor tug on your retina.
Signs of trouble
Retinal detachment describes an emergency situation when a critical layer of tissue (the retina) at the back of the eye pulls away from the layer of blood vessels that provides it oxygen and ...
Risk factors for eye floaters include:
Preparing for your appointment
If you're concerned about your eye floaters, you can make an appointment with a doctor who specializes in eye disorders (an optometrist or an ophthalmologist). If you have complications that require treatment, you'll need to see an ophthalmologist. Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment, and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions can help you make the most of your time together. For eye floaters, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
Your doctor will conduct a complete eye exam to make sure your floaters aren't a sign of something more serious. Part of the exam will include looking into your eyes after your doctor has placed pupil-dilating drops into your eyes. Your pupils will remain dilated for about 20 minutes after the exam.
Treatments and drugs
Most eye floaters require no treatment. If your eye floaters are so numerous that they significantly interfere with your vision, your doctor might suggest a surgical procedure (vitrectomy) that uses a hollow needle to withdraw the vitreous humor from your eye. The vitreous humor is replaced with a saltwater solution. However, this procedure can cause a retinal detachment and cataract, and it may not remove all floaters. Laser procedures carry the same serious risks, and are rarely recommended.
Last Updated: 2009-12-18
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