Floaters in the Eye: What You Need to Know

By Eye Institute of Houston
February 14, 2020

When something passes across our field of vision, it is usually somewhere in front of us. We typically do not expect the things we see to disappear into thin air when we look at them. Floaters in the eye, however, do just that. These visual aberrations look like something in our field of vision but, when we take a closer look, they disappear. Here, we discuss what floaters are and what you need to know about them.

Eye Floaters Explained

Eye floaters can look different for everyone. Sometimes, people mistake a floater for a flock of birds flying in the distance. This can happen when several black dots float across the field of vision. Sometimes, floaters look like a web or a piece of hair in the eye. We often see floaters when we’re looking at a uniform background such as the sky or a blank wall.

Floaters are in the eye, not on the surface. The visual appearance of floaters is actually a shadow that is cast on the retina. The shadow occurs because clumps of protein are passing through the vitreous humor, a dense, gel-like liquid that fills the space between the front and back of the eye. Clumps move more easily through the vitreous as we age because it becomes somewhat watery and fluid. Floaters shift when we try to look at them because eye motions move them through the vitreous.

Are Floaters Dangerous?

Typically, floaters are not related to any particular condition. They may occur secondary to an eye infection or injury but are often a simple age-related phenomenon. Usually, floaters will be noticed for a short time, maybe a few months, and then they will go away. This may repeat every so often.

Floaters should be checked right away if they occur suddenly and persistently. Floaters that coincide with flashes of light indicate the need for immediate medical attention. Severe floaters and flashes may be caused by a tear in the retina or by retinal detachment. These conditions may occur when the shrinking vitreous pulls the retina away from the lining of the back of the eye. Without prompt intervention, the retina may detach, causing vision loss.

Whether your floaters occur every now and then or come on quickly, there are good reasons to have your eyes checked by your trusted eye doctor. Schedule a comprehensive eye exam at the Eye Institute of Houston at (713) 668-7337.

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