Eye Floaters: Harmless or Dangerous?



Is there anything as bothersome as an eye floater? Those flashing spots, strands, squiggly lines, and rings dart and drift away and you just cannot look directly at them, no matter how hard you try. Floaters are often most apparent when you are outside or looking at something bright or light in color. Everyone experiences eye floaters once in a while, but they can increase in number and frequency and become distracting. In rare cases, floaters can be an indicator of a more serious eye condition.

What causes eye floaters?

Most floaters are a result of the aging process. About 80 percent of the eye is filled with vitreous humor, a gel-like material that helps the eye keep a round shape. Over time, the gel reduces in volume and pulls away from the back of the eye. Protein strands in the gel, called collagen, become stringy and cast shadows on the retina. These shadows are what cause the floaters.

Some floaters have a very different origin. Eye surgery, eye disease, eye injury or diabetic retinopathy can result in floaters, so talk to your eye doctor if you think that eye floaters are a result of a previous procedure or condition.

Are floaters dangerous?

Most floaters are completely normal and gradually tend to settle at the bottom of the eye, but they do not go away completely. Most people become accustomed to floaters and they can ignore them, but there are some instances when you should not ignore floaters. It may be necessary to call your eye doctor if you notice an increase in eye floaters, eye pain, changes in peripheral vision or see flashes of light.

Although less common, floaters can be symptoms of a retinal tear, retinal detachment, inflammation (uveitis) vitreous hemorrhage, eye tumor or bleeding within the eye, so do not ignore changes in your vision.

Treatments for eye floaters

If you are simply bothered by your floaters, there is no specific treatment. Sometimes, just moving to a location that has lower light can be helpful in minimizing floaters. If your vision is significantly affected by floaters, your doctor may talk to you about a surgical procedure called a vitrectomy. In this procedure, the vitreous humor and collagen strands are removed from the back of the eye and replaced with a salt solution. This operation is not usually recommended unless your vision is being significantly compromised.