Sign up for Our Newsletter

Sign up below to get new article notifications, important news & exclusive deals from Keeler.

Why Am I Seeing Floaters? Should I Be Concerned?

Click to Play Audio Version of this Content
Voiced by Amazon Polly

Virtually everyone experiences eye floaters at some point in their lives. Floaters look like tiny specks of dust or cobweb that drift across your line of vision. They may also appear as flashing spots, wispy threads, or squiggly lines. The wispy-thread type is usually more visible. 

Floaters tend to go away on their own and are generally not bothersome unless they are numerous or more prominent. They can be dangerous in rare cases, or they can be a sign of a serious eye condition. Let's take a closer look at floaters and when you should be concerned. 

What Causes Eye Floaters to Develop?

Floaters show up when the vitreous humor (the jelly-like fluid that fills the middle of the eye) reduces in volume and begins to pull away from the back of the eye. This causes the vitreous to shrink and become stringy or fibrous. The fibers explain why floaters look like wispy threads, cobweb, or squiggly lines. What you're really seeing, however, is the shadows the fibers cast onto your retina.

Floaters move as you move your eyes and drift away when you try to look at them directly. Unlike when dust or a tiny particle gets into your eye, blinking does not get rid of the specks, spots, or lines.

Other Causes or Risk Factors

Floaters are an age-related eye condition and commonly affect people over age 50. Other risk factors are:

  • Eye injury
  • Eye surgery
  • Inflammation (uveitis)
  • Myopia (nearsightedness)
  • Bloodshot eye (vitreous hemorrhaging)
  • Retinal tears
  • Diabetic retinopathy

Signs and Symptoms of Floaters

Most people ignore floaters, especially if they settle at the bottom of the eye away from their field of vision. But they can increase in number or become more apparent and distracting. Some people notice flashes of light in their peripheral (side) vision. The flashing spots or shadows are more noticeable when you're outside or looking at something bright such as blue skies or a piece of white paper.

When are Floaters Dangerous?

The appearance of floaters in a small area of vision is usually the only problem when the microscopic fibers within the vitreous clump and cast shadows on your retina. In some cases, the fine fibers pull on the retinal surface and cause them to break. Once broken, the vitreous separates and shrinks from the retina (vitreous detachment). Vitreous detachment, also known as posterior vitreous detachment (PVD), is not noticeable or sight-threatening, although the number of new floaters may suddenly increase. Here are some instances when floaters should be a cause for concern:

  • You notice an increase in the number of floaters
  • You see flashes of light
  • You experience eye pain
  • There are changes with your peripheral vision
  • Floaters are accompanied by bloodshot eyes

In some cases, the vitreous detachment can result in a macular hole or retinal detachment. Early treatment is required since both conditions can lead to permanent vision loss. Retinal detachment happens when the fibers in the vitreous body pull on the retinal nerve cells causing the retina to tear or detach. Severe damage to vision or permanent vision loss may occur if the detachment is not corrected within 24 to 72 hours.

Eye Floaters Treatment

Floaters typically go away with time — although not completely. No treatment is necessary once your ophthalmologist confirms that the floaters are not a sign of a serious eye condition or a threat to your vision. At best, your eye doctor may require you to have more frequent eye exams to monitor your vision.

What Is a Vitrectomy?

On rare occasions, a vitrectomy is recommended. One instance is where there are too many floaters and they significantly interfere with your vision. Vitrectomy is a surgical procedure done to remove the vitreous gel from the back of the eye along with the floating fibers. The surgeon will then replace the vitreous with a salt solution. Most eye surgeons do not recommend this surgery because of the risk of complications including retinal tears, retinal detachment, and cataracts.

What Are Eye Flashes? 

Eye flashes are a condition commonly associated with floaters. Typically, the light that enters the eye will stimulate the retina, which creates an electrical impulse that the optic nerve sends to the brain. The brain then interprets the impulse as some type of image or light. Anytime the retina is tugged or touched physically, an electrical impulse will be picked up by the brain and will be interpreted as a flicker of light. Based on the extent of the tear, traction, or detachment, these flickers of light may be temporary, short-lived, or could continue until the retina is repaired. 

What Is the "Seeing Stars" Sensation? 

Flashes — called photopsias — can occur after a forceful blow to the head that may have shaken or stirred the vitreous. This is the phenomenon referred to as “seeing stars."  Some experience these "stars" as heat waves or jagged lines in both eyes. Often lasting up to 20 minutes, eye flashes are typically caused by spasms of blood vessels in the brain. And if a headache occurs after the flashes, it's called a migraine.

Contact Keeler at 800-523-5620 or email us at [email protected] for the latest in diagnostic innovations. 

About the Author Eugene VanArsdale

Eugene is the Director of Marketing Communications at Keeler Instruments. He has been with Keeler since 1982 and is co-holder of two patents for the company. Eugene has a true passion for the eye care industry and has dedicated himself to understanding the ins and outs of the optometric and ophthalmic equipment market.