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Eye floaters

3-minute read

Small specks, cobweb-like strands or clouds that move across your vision are called eye floaters. They're usually harmless, but there are treatments available if they are bothering your or affecting your vision.

What are eye floaters?

Eye floaters can drift across your field of vision, and stand out more when you look at something bright. They usually don’t affect your vision, though if they are large they may appear to cast a shadow over your vision in some types of light.

They are caused by changes over time to the ‘jelly’ (vitreous) inside your eyes, which is attached to the retina.

As you age, the vitreous becomes more liquid and tiny collagen fibres inside it clump together and cast a shadow over the retina.

It’s the shadow that you can see.

eye anatomy
Cross section of an eye with floaters

Eye floaters are more common between the ages of 50 and 75. They don’t normally go away, but they don’t usually need treatment. In time you learn to live with them as your brain adapts and you don’t notice them as much.

Eye floater symptoms

Eye floaters can appear as:

  • black or grey dots
  • squiggly lines or ‘worms’
  • knobbly strands
  • cobwebs
  • rings

They may dart away when you look at them, or may drift away from your field of vision. 

Eye floaters representation
Floaters may look like squiggly lines or worms within your field of vision

Eye floater diagnosis

If your eye floaters are bothering you, talk to your doctor. They will examine your eye and may refer you to an ophthalmologist who will look more closely at the back of your eye to work out what is causing the eye floaters. 

Eye floater treatment

If your eye floaters are bothering you, there are two types of possible treatment:

  • Surgery to remove the floater (vitrectomy): A tiny cut is made in the eye so the eye floater and some or all of the vitreous can be removed. It is replaced with a solution. This procedure may not remove all of the eye floaters. There is a risk of bleeding, cataracts and a torn retina.
  • Laser treatment (vitreolysis): Nanosecond pulses of laser light are applied to your eye through a contact lens to convert the molecules of collagen into gas. This reduces the size of the floater or completely removes it. It is performed as an outpatient procedure and normally takes 20 to 60 minutes. Most people need 2 or 3 treatments to remove the eye floaters. 

When to seek help

See your doctor if:

  • you have many more eye floaters than usual
  • they appear very suddenly
  • you also have flashes of light in the same eye
  • there is darkness to the side or sides of your vision

Eye floaters are sometimes – though rarely – caused by a tear, haemorrhage or detachment of the retina, all of which need urgent medical attention.

A detached retina is more common if you have suffered a trauma to the eye, you are short sighted, you have had cataract surgery or your retina has been detached before.

Your doctor will also rule out other possible causes of eye floaters such as inflammation or certain eye medications.

More information

Visit the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists website for more information about floaters.

Last reviewed: March 2018

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