What Are Eye Floaters? Should They Worry You?

Have you noticed a tiny "spot" in your visual field? Maybe this spot is most pronounced when you look at something bright or something that's plain white in color. Though this spot may concern you, it's likely just what eye doctors refer to as a "floater." Here's a closer look at floaters, what causes them, and when you need to be concerned about them.

What are floaters?

At the back of your eye, there is a compartment filled with a fluid called vitreous humor. Sometimes, a few proteins clump together, forming a fleck or chunk within this humor. When this protein clump passes into your visual field, it appears as a floater – a little spot, squiggled line, or thread-like strand. Since the protein clumps float around within the vitreous humor, they don't stay in one spot. So sometimes you may notice the floater off to the left, and other times it may be to the right or at the top of your visual field.

What causes eye floaters?

Eye floaters become more common as people age. It is thought that they occur as a result of the shrinking of the vitreous humor. In most cases, they are completely benign and not a reason to worry at all.

In rare cases, floaters may be caused by an injury to the retina. If the retina detaches or part of it peels off, the pieces may float in the vitreous humor, creating spots in your visual field. In other cases, floaters can also be a sign of cancer in the eye. In diabetics, floaters can be a sign of poor blood sugar management that's resulting in damage to the retina.

How do you know if your floaters are serious?

If you have floaters, it's definitely worth mentioning them to your eye doctor at your next appointment just so he or she can check you over and make sure nothing more sinister is going on. You should also contact an eye doctor from a company like Montgomery Eye Center immediately if your floaters are accompanied by any of these other symptoms, which may indicate you're suffering from a more severe issue:

  • Flashes of light in your visual field
  • Blurry or fuzzy vision overall
  • Eye pain
  • Severe impairment of vision by the floaters

In the vast majority of cases, eye floaters are just a benign issue you can safely ignore and which won't require medical treatment. However, since they can indicate a more serious problem, you should mention them to your eye doctor just to be sure.