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Floaters (Eye)

Floaters, or spots, are particles or specks that appear in your field of vision. Most people have them in one form or another, though they're usually not noticeable. But when you can see them, they can take the shape of dots, strands or squiggly lines. Floaters also tend to move as you move your eyes or head around, though they don’t necessarily follow the path of the eye precisely.

Causes of Floaters

About 80 percent of the eye is filled with a gel-like substance called vitreous that helps it maintain its round shape. As the substance shrinks with age, it becomes stringy and the strands cast tiny shadows on the retina. Often, these are simply a nuisance, and they settle below the line of sight over time. However, some floaters, especially those accompanied by flashes of light or a loss of vision at the sides of your eye, could be the sign of a more serious condition. These symptoms could indicate an eye injury, an infection, inflammation or hemorrhaging. These signs could also indicate a retinal detachment, which is an emergency and can lead to blindness if it is left untreated.

Floaters are also more common in certain populations than in others. For example, people with diabetes and those who are very nearsighted are more likely to get them. Having cataract surgery also increases the likelihood of developing floaters.

Treatment

Anyone who experiences lots of floaters or other concerning symptoms should see an eye doctor immediately. In the vast majority of cases, however, no treatment is recommended. But, if floaters are especially bothersome or greatly hinder eyesight, a vitrectomy can be performed. This procedure involves removing the vitreous and replacing it with a salt solution. It has a number of potential side effects, however, so it is done only in rare instances. Other complications related to floaters, such as retinal detachment, would need corrective surgery to repair the problem.

SOURCES: American Optometric Association; U.S. National Eye Institute

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