Eye Floaters: Symptoms & Causes

by Vanya Sharma last updated -

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Eye floaters are the dark specks, stringy or shadowy lines that we occasionally see across our vision. It can be disconcerting when these specks appear, similar to how some people “see stars” after standing up too quickly or being banged on the head.

What are Eye Floaters?

Eye floaters tend to be black or gray in appearance and can be nearly impossible to focus on. They seem to disappear or fly to one side when you attempt to look at them.

The reason for this difficulty, of course, is that these eye floaters are intrinsically linked to the movement of your eye. They are actually composed of clumps of microscopic fibers that gradually form in our eyes over time, due to certain changes in the fluid within our eyes. The vitreous humor is the gel-like substance that is found in the back of our eyes. It is through this fluid that the light passes on to be registered on our rods and cones.

While we are young, this vitreous humor has a uniform consistency. As we age, it turns into more of a liquid, and the minuscule fibers and strands from that humor begin to clump together. In most cases, these clumps remain invisible and do not impact the movement of light; however, if they grow large or long enough, they can be seen as a shadow on our vision. These can also be small liquid pockets in this gel-like solution that form over time, which are seen as the “speck form” of eye floaters.

Symptoms of Eye Floaters

As mentioned earlier, the primary symptoms of eye floaters are minor impairments, such as the following:

  • The appearance of specks, flecks, strands or shadows in your vision.
  • These spots aren’t stationary and tend to wobble or “swim” through your vision.
  • The dots are most obvious when you are looking at a uniform background or a light colored object.
  • They may be visible for a few seconds or a few minutes, but they will typically settle back into the rim of the eye and disappear.
  • When you try to look at them or shift your eyes to focus more accurately, they often fly out of sight, because they are rapidly taken out of the line of sight (from the back of your eye) when your eyes move.

If these specks are accompanied by any other symptoms, such as flashes of light, temporary vision loss, or impairment of your peripheral vision, you should immediately be checked out by an ophthalmologist.

Illustration of the inside of an eye

Causes of Eye Floaters

There are various causes of eye floaters apart from the natural aging process, such as a torn retina, trauma to the eye, or inflammation.

  • Aging Process: As we age, many parts of our body begin to break down, and the same thing is true for our eyes too. Over the years, the gel-like substance in our eyes begins to turn into liquid, which fills up less space and pulls away slightly from the surface of the eye. This causes the strings and specks in our vision; they are shadows of the strands, pockets, and bits of debris from this natural breakdown of the aging process.
  • Trauma: When you rub your eyes very quickly, it can cause “stars” to be seen for a few seconds as the visual receptors deal with the intense pressure of your fingers. Similarly, any trauma to the eye can cause the increased breakdown of the vitreous humor, and also cause some of the more serious symptoms of eye floaters, such as flashing lights or poor peripheral vision.
  • Torn Retina: Tearing your retina can be caused by a rapid or forceful pullback of the vitreous humor. This can then exacerbate the buildup of the fluid behind the eye and a further sagging of the humor. This creates a cycle that only creates more eye floaters, so any torn retina should be addressed and fixed by a doctor as soon as possible.
  • Inflammation: General inflammation of the eye from infections, pollutants, irritants or trauma can speed up the process of vitreous humor breakdown, leading to more eye floaters. Use eyedrops to flush out the eyes and practice proper hygiene habits when washing your face or touching your eyes for any reason.

While these eye floaters are generally harmless, they can partially impair your vision and may be indicative of a more serious underlying medical condition. If these eye floaters appear very quickly or seem to constantly be present, it is important to see an eye specialist immediately.

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About the Author

Vanya Sharma handles the medical expert collaboration for Organic Facts. A writer at heart, she joined the website while she was still pursuing her English Literature degree from IGNOU, Delhi, India. She is also responsible for the website’s monthly newsletter and website content and contributes to Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube regularly. Currently pursuing an e-course offered by Stanford University, ‘Introduction to Food and Health’, she aims to bring unbiased and helpful information to all those seeking to make their health and lifestyle a priority.  

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