You may have had them – tiny specks or lines that suddenly drift across your field of vision – and didn’t realize they were called floaters. Most people ignore them, but floaters can be a sign of eye disease. If you frequently have floaters or suddenly experience a lot of them, please contact the Eye Care Center of Kauai, in Lihue, Hawaii, to schedule an appointment. A complete eye exam will determine whether your floaters may indicate an eye problem that should be treated to protect your vision.

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What are floaters?

Floaters are aptly named because they float across your field of vision. They appear as small, dark, shadowy shapes that look like spots, squiggly lines, or like a strand of thread. They often appear when your eyes stop moving and become more noticeable when you’re looking at something plain or bright, like a white wall or a clear blue sky.

What causes floaters?

The inside of your eye contains a transparent jelly-like fluid called the vitreous. Sometimes tiny clumps develop in the vitreous, or over time it tends to get a little stringy. As these clumps or strings cast shadows on the retina, you see them as floaters.

Floaters develop more often as you age and the vitreous starts to thicken. You’re also more likely to get floaters if you:

  • Are nearsighted: Need glasses to see far away
  • Had surgery for cataracts
  • Have diabetes
  • Have had swelling inside the eye

Are floaters dangerous to your eyes?

Floaters are distracting, but they eventually float to the bottom of the eye and settle somewhere below the line of sight, so you won’t see them. While they never really go away, floaters alone don’t pose a danger to your eyes.

However, floaters can be a symptom of a serious eye condition. They could indicate you have an infection, inflammation, bleeding, a retinal tear, or eye injury.

When should you seek medical attention for floaters?

If you have floaters frequently and they bother you or interfere with your vision, don’t hesitate to schedule an eye examination, but the bigger concern is when you notice a sudden increase in floaters. When an increase in floaters is accompanied by flashes of light or you lose peripheral vision (side vision), it’s even more serious because it’s a sign of retinal detachment.

If you experience any of these symptoms, please contact the Eye Care Center of Kauai immediately. A detached retina is an emergency that must be treated quickly. It only takes 2-3 days before a detached retina can cause loss of vision or blindness.

How are floaters treated?

The only way to treat floaters is with surgery, so your doctor at the Eye Care Center of Kauai will do a complete eye examination, learn about your concerns, then talk about whether surgery is appropriate for your condition. One possible type of surgery, laser vitreolysis, is a non-invasive procedure that uses laser energy to evaporate the floaters. A second type surgery, a vitrectomy, removes all of the vitreous gel, including floaters, then replaces the gel with another safe fluid.