Eye Floaters: Causes, Treatment, and When to See a Doctor

Eye floaters are dots in your field of vision, and they’re usually harmless. They’re sometimes associated with an underlying condition, like diabetes, that puts you at higher risk. This guide will help you recognize the early symptoms.

9 minute read

Last Updated July 15, 2020

Eye Floaters: Causes, Treatment, and When to See a Doctor

An eye floater is a speck or dot in your field of vision that seems to float away if you try and look at it. These specks are deposits that form in the vitreous humor, the gel-like material that fills your eye. 

Eye floaters are usually harmless and won’t damage sight. They can be a nuisance and make it difficult to see or focus. They can also be an early symptom of an underlying condition that could damage our vision. 

What Do Eye Floaters Look Like?

Floaters can appear in several different ways.

♦ Small shapes that appear in your vision as dots or transparent strings of floating material

♦ Spots that are more noticeable when you look at a plain background (white wall, blue sky)

♦ Small shapes or strings that settle and eventually drift out of the line of vision

♦ Spots that move around your eye and out of sight when you try and look at them

When floaters appear suddenly or become more frequent, you need to see your doctor right away. It also could be a medical emergency if you see flashes of light in the same eye as the floater or if you have darkness in your peripheral vision. 

Causes of Eye Floaters

Floaters appear to be in front of your eye, but they are actually inside. Most floaters are caused by age-related changes to the vitreous humor. Microscopic collagen fibers within the eye get thicker with age. These fibers can collect together and cast shadows on the retina. These clumps appear as black or gray dots that seem to float as you move our eyes around. 

Increasing age is the most common risk factor for floaters, but there are other factors that also increase risk.

♦ Injury or trauma to the eye
♦ Eye surgery complications (LASIK)
♦ Diabetes
♦ Having myopia (nearsightedness)
♦ Eye inflammation

Diseases Associated With Eye Floaters

Age-related floaters will appear gradually and can also diminish with time. A sudden increase in floaters is likely the symptom of a more serious condition. Conditions associated with an increase in floaters include:

Retinal detachment: After aging, retinal detachment is the most common cause of floaters. If fluid accumulates behind the retina, it can become forced to detach from the back of the eye. Without treatment, this can lead to vision loss. The sudden appearance of floaters, along with flashes of light, needs immediate medical attention. The initial appearance of floaters can signify a retinal tear, so you should seek treatment before the retina becomes completely detached. 

Inflammation: Inflammation at the back of the eye (uveitis) can cause the release of inflammatory debris into the vitreous humor. Infections and inflammatory diseases are usually the underlying cause. 

Diabetic retinopathy: This is a complication of diabetes. When blood glucose levels are uncontrolled, damage to blood vessels occurs. The blood vessels supplying the eye are small and easily damaged. The blood that leaks can appear as floaters. You may also notice flashes of light along with the floaters. 

Cataract surgery: Floaters are known to appear after surgery to have cataracts removed. Additionally, medications used to treat eye conditions also cause floaters. They have to be injected into the eye, which causes bubbles to form. These bubbles will appear as shadows until they become absorbed by the vitreous humor. 

Tumors: Tumors of the eye can cause floaters, although this is rare. In the case of an eye tumor, you will also experience pain, vision loss, headaches, and eye redness.

Eye Floaters Treatment

Most eye floaters will decrease in size and density with time. The natural processes within the eye can absorb floaters, causing them to disappear. In many cases, people become used to the floaters as the brain learns to adapt. Floaters are more bothersome than dangerous, but there are a few treatment options that can help you deal with them. 

♦ Anti-inflammatory medications can help when inflammation is the cause.
♦ Antibiotics will clear any infections-causing floaters.

In cases where bleeding is the cause, as with retinal detachment diabetic retinopathy, the underlying condition needs to be treated before floaters can be addressed. 

There may also be cases where floaters impair vision, and there are treatment options available.

Surgery: The vitreous can be removed through a small incision. It is replaced with a solution that helps your eye maintain shape. Your eye will naturally produce more vitreous fluid to replace this. Not all floaters will be removed with this procedure, and some new ones may form. Surgery is left as a last resort because it increases the risk of cataract and retinal detachment.

Laser treatment: Lasers are aimed directly at floaters to break them up. They become less noticeable to some people, but this does not work for everyone. 

Natural Treatment for Eye Floaters

Eye floaters are more common as you get older, and they can diminish on their own, and they can also be bothersome or a sign of an eye condition. There are natural treatment options available to prevent the development of eye floaters. By providing your eye with natural nourishment, you prevent the risk of age-related diseases that cause eye-floaters. 

The best natural ingredients for optimal eye health include:

Astaxanthin: This antioxidant is more powerful than vitamin E and protects the eye from oxidative damage. Free radical damage is a leading cause of age-related disorders. A little of this compound goes a long way in boosting eye health.

Zeaxanthin: This is one of the carotenoids found naturally in the eye. It is essential to the health of eye cells. Without this compound, the risk of blue light damage and oxidative stress are high. Zeaxanthin also prevents retinal detachment, which is commonly associated with eye floaters.

Lycopene: Another carotenoid that is essential to eye health is lycopene. Found in red fruits and vegetables, this antioxidant protects against cell damage. It has been linked to reducing the risk of cataracts, which can cause eye floaters. 

Mixed carotenes: Carotenes are chemically related to carotenoids and provide the same antioxidant benefits. Because the eye has one of the highest metabolic rates in the body, antioxidant protection is essential. Free radical damage is common in eyes, and carotenes like alpha-carotene and beta-carotene reduce damage.

How to Prevent Eye Floaters

Eye floaters develop as part of the aging process. You can reduce the appearance of floaters by promoting optimal eye health. Taking care of your eyes is also the best way to prevent the conditions that can cause floaters. 

Get regular eye examinations: Do not wait until you have a problem with your eyes to get a comprehensive exam. Have our eyes checked regularly to identify issues early? If you are predisposed to eye problems or have diabetes or high blood pressure, annual checks are a necessity. 

♦ Maintain a healthy diet: A balanced diet will ensure you get essential eye nutrients. Getting enough vitamin C, vitamin E, lutein, and omega-3 fatty acids will protect your eyes and reduce the risk of eye diseases. 

Rest your eyes: Give your eyes a break from computer screens. Blue light emitted from the screen damages the retina and increases our risk of eye diseases. Use the 20-20-20 rule to give your eyes a rest. Every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. 

When to See Your Doctor

Floaters are essentially harmless. The danger lies in the underlying disease or condition that is causing them. 

Age-related changes to the eye are the most common reason for floaters, but it is possible for another condition to be the cause. Speak with your doctor if you notice frequent floaters. A sudden increase in floaters could be a sign of a more serious problem that requires medical attention and treatment.

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