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What Are Eye Floaters? Should You Be Worried?

by Cindy Gray

Many people take clear vision for granted until they develop eye floaters, little specks or "cobwebs" that float around in eye fluid.  When the eyes stop moving, floaters dart or drift outside of the field of vision.  Because they are generally not considered serious, floaters usually require no treatment, but in certain situations, they can be indicative of a more serious problem.  Learning more about eye floaters helps determine whether their development is a simple nuisance or a cause for concern. 

Eye floaters drift around the eye and appear as specks or cobwebs in the field of vision.

Causes of Eye Floaters

The development of eye floaters is a normal part of the aging process.  As people move through middle age and beyond, the jelly-like material (vitreous) inside the eyes becomes more fluid, and bits can clump together and drift around the eye.  While they may not go away completely, floaters tend to move to the bottom of the eye in time and require no treatment.  Although usually not a cause for concern, there are instances where eye floaters can be a symptom of more serious problems like eye injury, eye hemorrhage, infection, inflammation (uveitis), or retinal detachment.

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Vitreous Detachment and Retinal Detachment

Vitreous detachment occurs when a section of the vitreous pulls away from the retina. Although many new eye floaters may develop, this condition does not threaten vision and typically requires no treatment.    

Retinal detachment occurs when a portion of the retina is pulled out of place from the back of the eye. This causes the development of many new floaters, light flashes, and possible peripheral (side) vision loss.  Retinal detachment is a very serious condition that can lead to permanent vision loss or blindness quickly.  People who experience these symptoms should seek immediate help from an eye care professional.

Additional People at Risk for Eye Floaters

In addition to being a common product of aging, floaters develop more often in the eyes of people who are diabetic, very nearsighted, or those who have gone through cataract surgery. 

Surgical Treatment

While rare, eye floaters can sometimes accumulate and cause significant visual impairment.  In a procedure called a vitrectomy, a surgeon removes the vitreous gel from the eye along with debris and replaces it with a salt solution.  Because it comes with serious risks like retinal tears, detachment, or cataracts, this surgery is recommended only for cases where floaters cause significant visual impairment.

Eye floaters can be bothersome, particularly when people engage in activities like reading or working at a computer.  Fortunately, floaters tend to move from the field of vision eventually, and most require no treatment.  Because eye floaters can be a symptom of serious eye conditions or injury, people who develop them should consult with an eye care professional.  

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