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Eye floaters

​Page contents

  • What are eye floaters?
  • What causes eye floaters?
  • Eye floaters treatment
  • Eye conditions related to floaters in the eye
  • Reasons to choose Moorfields Private for your eye floaters treatment

What are eye floaters?

Floaters are shapes or shadows that people can see drifting across their vision. The exact form and source of these floaters vary – they may appear as small dots or irregularly shaped strands. Floaters are generally harmless and can become less noticeable over time, however in some cases they can be an indication of serious eye conditions especially when they are associated with flashes of light.

What causes eye floaters?

The hollow space in the middle of your eyeball is filled by a clear, jelly-like substance called the vitreous humor. As the vitreous ages, it liquifies and becomes less firm, and strands of a protein called collagen become visible within it. These strands swirl gently when the eye moves.

Normally, light travels through the clear gel of vitreous humor in order to reach the retina, the light sensitive layer of cells and tissue at the back of your eye which transmits images to your brain via the optic nerve. Any objects, such as floaters, that are in the vitreous humour will cast shadows onto the retina, giving rise to the perception of floaters.

If you have had an eye operation, such as cataract surgery, you are more likely to experience floater symptoms and related conditions. In some cases, floaters may also be the result of a number of other processes including:

  • Infection
  • Inflammation (uveitis)
  • Eye disease, or
  • Eye injury

In nearly all people, usually over the age of 40, the vitreous humor separates from the retina. When this happens, it can tug on the retina, causing the eye to see flashes of bright white light. A sudden increase (shower) of floaters in the eye can sometimes be seen at the same time. This is process of the vitreous humor separating from the retina is called a posterior vitreous detachment or PVD, and may lead to retinal tears and retinal detachment.

Eye floaters treatment

Generally, people should not be concerned about seeing one or two floaters in their vision if they’ve been there for some time. However, if you see the sudden onset of floaters that have not been there before, especially if they are accompanied by flashing lights, you should seek an urgent review from an eye specialist.

Treatment for eye floaters is rarely required and over time, as your brain adjusts to their presence, eye floaters will become less noticeable, and flashes will disappear. Sometimes dark glasses for eye floaters may be useful in minimising them if they are becoming an annoyance. In some cases, after PVD or secondary to an eye condition, floaters can become persistent, annoying and obstruct the vision, especially in some lighting conditions such as using the computer or driving on a sunny day. In these cases you may want to consider treating the floaters.

You should only seek eye floaters treatment if they start to affect your vision. If this is the case, you should consult an optometrist or visit your GP. They will be able to check your eyes to see if you require further treatment or tests.

Eye conditions related to floaters in the eye

Posterior vitreous detachment (PVD)

Posterior vitreous detachment (PVD) is usually the result of changes that occur to the vitreous humor of the eye, as the eye gets older. PVD is a common condition that occurs in about 75% of people over 65.

With age, the central part of the vitreous humour becomes more liquid, and the outer part, known as the cortex (which contains more collagen) starts to shrink away from the retina. Eye floaters develop as a result of the collagen thickening and clumping together.

As well as floaters, flashing can be another symptom of PVD. Flashing may occur when the outer part of the vitreous humor pulls on the light sensitive tissue of the retina. The pulling stimulates the retina, causing your brain to interpret it as a light signal. This creates the sensation of flashing lights.

Retinal tears and vitreous hemorrhage

In approximately half of all people, the vitreous humour has separated from the retina by the time they are 60. This doesn’t usually cause any problems, and most people aren’t even aware that it has happened.

In a few cases of PVD, when the vitreous humor pulls on the retina, it can cause the tiny blood vessels on the surface of the retina to burst and bleed into the vitreous. The red blood cells may appear as tiny black dots, or they may look like smoke. This is called a vitreous hemorrhage. In most cases the blood is reabsorbed spontaneously, and the floaters that are associated with the bleed tend to disappear over the course of a few months.

In rare cases, the vitreous humor remains strongly attached to parts of the retina during the PVD. These points of attachment can lead to tears in the retina as the vitreous pulls away. Retinal tears can be associated with bleeding (seen as a ‘shower’ of dots or flies), increase in floaters in the eye and, flashes of bright, white light in your vision that look a little like lightning streaks. If you have these symptoms, you need to be reviewed by an eye specialist and have retinal tears excluded. If the retinal tear is present it needs urgent retinal laser surgery.

It is important to be aware that flashes in your vision are not necessarily a sign of retinal tears, or retinal detachment (see below). They may have another cause, such as a migraine with aura (a headache with a ‘zig-zag’ pattern across your field of vision).

Floaters and flashes do not usually cause long-term visual impairment, but if you experience them it is important that you visit an eye care specialist, such as an optometrist, in order to have an eye examination.

Retinal detachment

If you have retinal tears, you will need to be treated as soon as possible because tears can lead to retinal detachment. Retinal detachment occurs when the retina separates from the wall at the back of the eye. If this happens, it can damage your sight.

After the light has passed through the eye and reaches the retina, the retina changes the light into meaningful electric signals. The signals are sent through the optic nerve to the brain, where they are translated into the images that you see. If the retina is damaged or detached, the images that are received by the brain become dark, or may be lost completely. Urgent surgery or retinal laser treatment is required to rectify retinal detachments.

Reasons to choose Moorfields Private for your eye floaters treatment

Whether you need expert advice on an eye floaters solution or require treatment for a related condition, you can trust Moorfields Private to deliver the highest quality of care. We have an excellent reputation, with experienced surgeons working at the very top of their professions. You’ll also be able to choose your preferred consultant, with all holding accredited consultant positions at the Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.

You will benefit from a service with complete continuity, as your preferred consultant will oversee every step of your treatment. From the initial consultation to discharge and any follow-up appointments, you can enjoy complete confidence at Moorfields Private.

Further information

To find out further information on eye floaters, treatment for eye floaters and related conditions, read our recommended blog posts below:

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