Posted on May 28, 2021, 1 p.m.
Floaters are small dark shapes that float across your vision. They can look like spots, threads, squiggly lines, or even little cobwebs.
Most people have floaters that come and go, and they often don’t need treatment. But sometimes floaters can be a sign of a more serious eye condition. So if you notice new floaters that appear suddenly and don’t go away, it’s important to tell your eye doctor.
What are the symptoms of floaters?
Floaters move as your eyes move — so when you try to look at them directly, they seem to move away. When your eyes stop moving, floaters keep drifting across your vision.
You may notice floaters more when you look at something bright, like a white paper or a blue sky.
Am I at risk for floaters?
Almost everyone develops floaters as they get older, but some people are at higher risk. You’re at higher risk if you:
- Are very nearsighted
- Have diabetes
- Have had surgery to treat cataracts
What causes floaters?
Floaters usually happen because of normal changes in your eyes. As you age, tiny strands of your vitreous (the gel-like fluid that fills your eye) stick together and cast shadows on your retina (the light-sensitive layer of tissue at the back of the eye). Those shadows appear as floaters.
Sometimes floaters have more serious causes, including:
- Eye infections
- Eye injuries
- Uveitis (inflammation in the eye)
- Bleeding in the eye
- Vitreous detachment (when the vitreous pulls away from the retina)
- Retinal tear (when vitreous detachment tears a hole in the retina)
- Retinal detachment (when the retina gets pulled away from the back of the eye)
When to get help right away
Sometimes new floaters can be a sign of a retinal tear or retinal detachment — when the retina gets torn or pulled from its normal position at the back of the eye.
Symptoms can include:
- A lot of new floaters that appear suddenly, sometimes with flashes of light
- A dark shadow (like a curtain) or blurry area in your side or central vision
Retinal tear or detachment can be a medical emergency. If you have these symptoms, it’s important to go to your eye doctor or the emergency room right away.
How will my eye doctor check for floaters?
Your eye doctor can check for floaters as part of a dilated eye exam. Your doctor will give you some eye drops to dilate (widen) your pupil and then check your eyes for floaters and other eye problems.
This exam is usually painless. The doctor may press on your eyelids to check for retinal tears, which may be uncomfortable for some people.
What’s the treatment for floaters?
Treatment for floaters depends on the cause. If your floaters are caused by another eye condition, you may need treatment for that condition.
If your floaters are caused by aging and they don’t bother you, then you probably won’t need any treatment.
If your floaters make it hard to see clearly and interfere with your daily life, your eye doctor might suggest a surgery called a vitrectomy to remove the floaters. Talk with your doctor about the risks and benefits of this surgery.
What happens during a vitrectomy?
During vitrectomy surgery, your eye doctor will make very small openings in your eye wall and remove most of the vitreous from your eye with a suction tool.
Depending on your treatment plan, your doctor may also:
- Use a laser or freeze treatment to reattach or repair your retina
- Inject a bubble of air or special gas into your eye to hold your retina in place
- Replace the vitreous with a clear fluid, like silicone oil
Doctors can either use numbing eye drops or shots so you won’t feel pain during the surgery, or they can use general anesthesia to put you to sleep for the surgery. Before your vitrectomy surgery, talk with your doctor about your anesthesia options.
If you need a vitrectomy in both eyes, you’ll only get surgery on 1 eye at a time. Your doctor can schedule surgery on the second eye after the first eye has recovered.
How long does it take to recover?
Some people stay overnight in the hospital, and some can go home the same day. You’ll need someone to drive you home from the hospital.
Your eye may be swollen and red for several weeks after the surgery. While your eye is healing, you may have some eye pain and your vision may be blurrier than before the surgery. You’ll have a follow-up appointment so your eye doctor can check your vision and make sure your eye is healing.
After the surgery, you’ll need to:
- Wear an eye patch, usually for about a day
- Use eye drops to reduce swelling and prevent infections
- Avoid some activities — like driving, intense exercise, and heavy lifting — while your eye heals
- Take some time off work — usually 2 to 4 weeks
Ask your doctor when it’s safe to go back to work and start driving and exercising again.
If the doctor puts an air or gas bubble in your eye, you’ll need to:
- Hold your head in a certain position for a few days to a few weeks, to keep the air bubble in the right spot
- Avoid flying in an airplane or traveling to high altitudes while the bubble is in your eye
Ask your doctor how long you need to keep doing these things after surgery.
If the doctor puts silicone oil in your eye, you’ll need a second surgery to remove it.
As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before making any changes to your wellness routine.
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