• Most of us will recognise the puzzling sensation of seeing either dark or transparent specks, spots, squiggles, or other shapes in our field of vision, appearing seemingly out of the blue. While it’s interesting to follow and observe these floaters, and while we hope that they’ll go away on their own, common questions that our optometrists get include what floaters really are, what they mean, and whether they could be a sign that something is wrong.

  • So today, we’ve dived into exactly what it means if you are seeing floaters, what’s the difference between ‘mild’ and ‘severe’ floaters, and what you should do if you’re concerned - or if your floaters aren’t going away.


Floaters - Should I Be Concerned?

  • In some instances, yes. Generally speaking, floaters are common, with an estimated 70% of us being able to see them at some point in our lives.[1] Most of the time they’re also harmless, being nothing more than a short-lived visual disturbance that can last for between one to six months.[2]

  • Floaters may become more serious when they impair your vision and affect your ability to complete everyday tasks such as reading, driving a car, or carrying out recreational, sports, or work activities that require a higher level of visual accuracy. Ultimately, the frustration of having floaters can have a significantly negative impact on a person’s quality of life, especially in younger adults.[3]

  • Seeing floaters may, in fewer cases, be a sign of a more serious underlying condition, such as when floaters are accompanied by regular flashes of light in your peripheral (side) vision, if floaters coincide with blurs or shadows in your vision, or if you have a sudden increase in the number of floaters in your vision.


So, What Is ‘Floating’ In My Eye?

  • Your eye is filled with a clear and transparent jelly-like substance called the vitreous, consisting of water, collagen, proteins, salts, and sugars. The vitreous fills the space between the lens at the front of your eye and the retina at the back of your eyeball, allowing light to reach the retina and working to maintain the shape of the eyeball.

  • The retina captures the light that enters our eyes and transmits this information to our brain, which interprets it to produce an image. As we age, the vitreous gel may naturally shrink and the microscopic collagen fibres within the vitreous may pull away. As a result, these fibres can clump together, which then blocks light and casts tiny shadows on your retina - meaning that what you see isn’t actually the floater itself, but the shadow it casts onto the retina.[4] This creates the appearance that something is floating in front of your eye.




When Do Floaters Indicate Something More Serious?

  • While it’s important to remember that most floaters are not harmful and are caused by the natural deterioration of the vitreous as we age,[5] on rare occasions, eye floaters can be a sign of eye injury or a more serious problem including:

  • - Bleeding: Bleeding of the eye can take place when the retina is pulled and tears a blood vessel, or when conditions such as diabetes cause abnormal blood vessels to develop. Blood cells that are located in the vitreous can be seen as regular floaters or may appear dark, black, or red.

  • - Inflammation: Inflammation in the eye can cause floaters when specks of inflammatory debris from the back of the eye find their way into the vitreous and cast shadows onto the retina. These shadows can appear as floaters.

  • - Retinal tear or detachment: Retinal tears occur when a sagging vitreous forcefully pull on the retina and causes it to tear. This may damage a blood vessel within the retina, causing it to leak blood into the vitreous, producing a sudden and noticeable increase in floaters. Without swift treatment, a torn retina may become a detached retina, which may put you at risk of blindness. If you notice a sudden increase in the number of floaters in your vision or if you are experiencing floaters alongside flashes of light in your peripheral (side) vision, this can be an indication that your retina has torn or is starting to become detached. In this case, we recommend that you make an appointment with an optometrist urgently, as we class this as an emergency situation.


Floaters Or Flashes - What’s The Difference?

  • As we age, another common visionary disturbance you may experience is flashes of light in the eye. Flashes are also caused by the vitreous gel rubbing, bumping, or pulling on the eye, producing flashing lights or lightning streaks that flicker across your field of vision. These flashes can come and go for several weeks or months.

  • The main difference between floaters and flashes is that flashes are usually noticeable in a dark room, or at night time, whereas floaters are normally only seen when it is lighter, during the day. Both are usually harmless, but both can be a warning sign of trouble in the eye, especially when they suddenly appear or increase significantly in number. As with floaters, if you experience a sudden onset or worsening of flashes, contact your optometrist urgently as this may also indicate damage to the retina.


What Can I Do To Help Prevent Floaters?

  • While you cannot definitively prevent floaters, you can help reduce the risk of them developing by:

  • - Resting your eyes: Like all other parts of our body, our eyes are constantly repairing and healing, and most of this takes place while we are asleep. To allow your body to naturally repair and maintain the health of your vitreous and retina, ensure you get at least seven hours of sleep each night, and give your eyes frequent rest from the fatigue and strain caused by looking at computer screens or televisions

  • - Drink up: Water is essential for overall physical health, and your eyes are no exception. The vitreous gel that fills your eye consists of 98% water. Normally, the vitreous stays dissolved and remains transparent, however, if you are regularly dehydrated, this substance can solidify and form floaters. Consuming the recommended intake of at least eight glasses of water a day will help to detoxify the body and the eye, which is essential to flush out build-ups of toxins in the eye that can lead to floaters

  • - Eat a healthy diet: Eat a varied and nutritious diet high in antioxidants to prevent inflammation which can trigger the development of floaters

  • - Protect your eyes from harsh light: Wearing a hat and sunglasses when outdoors will help to protect your eyes. When your eyes are under strain, like when exposed to harsh light, it can make floaters more noticeable

  • - Limit alcohol: High levels of alcohol in the blood can cause the vitreous to age prematurely, contributing to the development of floaters, so avoiding or limiting your intake of alcohol will help to avoid this risk and prevent floaters from occurring in the first place

  • - Stop smoking: Cigarettes contain a myriad of harmful chemicals that have been shown to contribute to the development and worsening of floaters



Don’t Delay Treatment: Get Your Eyes Checked Today

  • If you’re seeing floaters and are concerned, or want to rule out anything more serious, then start with an appointment with your optometrist. It’s encouraging to know that most floaters will disappear on their own and become less noticeable over time, however, for some people, persistent floaters can be irritating to live with.

  • We recommend making an appointment to see an optometrist for persistent floaters, whether they are mild, moderate, or severe, alongside your annual eye exam. Your optometrist will work with you to assess the health of your eyes and rule out something more serious, giving you assurance and peace of mind - or forming a clear pathway to treat the underlying problem promptly.

  • If you notice a sudden increase in the floaters you are seeing, or your floaters coincide with flashes, blur, or shadows in your vision, an appointment with your optometrist should be made urgently.


Book your appointment with one of our experienced optometrists today at your local centre here.




[2] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1529183909005247

[3] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21570045/


[5] https://www.vmrinstitute.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Floaters-Survey-Ophthalmol-2016.pdf