Floaters—the benign nuisance it’s worth keeping your eye on

Floaters. They’re one of the most annoying and common eye issues people experience. The little squiggly lines or dots can appear with no warning, “floating” through your vision, sometimes coming and going, and sometimes staying for good. Frequently appearing just off center from what you are looking at, it can be enough to drive you to distraction. But the good news is, floaters, in most cases, won’t hurt you. 

What is a floater?

Eyes are comprised of about 80 percent vitreous gel. As we age, the composition of the gel changes. It becomes stringy and may cast shadows on the retina that resembles little squiggly lines. They can also look cobwebs or specks that float around in your field of vision. They can be particularly frustrating, because they seem to dart away if you attempt to look at them directly. And yet, they don’t follow your eye movements, either.

Who gets floaters?

Floaters are a natural occurrence and the incidence increases with age. But not only the elderly get them. People who have diabetes or who are very nearsighted are at an elevated risk of floaters. They may also appear after undergoing cataract surgery.

How are floaters treated?

In most cases, floaters are a completely benign condition that require no treatment at all. In time, the floaters may “settle” toward the bottom of the eye or patients simply get used to having them in their field of vision. However, floaters, especially new onset floaters, may be an indication of other more serious eye conditions. For this reason, patients with new onset floaters should be examined by an ophthalmologist or optometrist.

Rarely, patients can have so many floaters that they significantly impair vision. Or the floaters are in a location in the visual field where they affect a patient’s ability to drive, read or perform other activities.  When this happens, we can perform a procedure called a vitrectomy.

This outpatient surgery is done by removing the vitreous gel, and consequently the floaters, from the eyes. The gel is then replaced with a salt solution. The salt solution operates remarkably like the eye’s original vitreous gel since the vitreous is mostly water to begin with.  Nearly all patients having this procedure notice no difference in their eye between the salt solution and the original vitreous, besides the newfound lack of floaters.

With that being said, a vitrectomy is still a serious surgery. And that’s why we generally only recommend it for severe, obstructive cases of floaters. Complications from the surgery can include retinal detachment, retinal tears, and cataracts. For most physicians the “risk/reward” ratio for this procedure isn’t worth it, unless your vision is truly impaired.

If you’re experiencing floaters, it definitely warrants a mention during your regular eye exams. However, if you have a sudden onset of new and significant floaters, or floaters associated with other eye symptoms such as flashes of light, loss of vision, light sensitivity, or pain, call your ophthalmologist or optometrist immediately.

Our offices would be happy to check out your floaters and determine if they are serious or not.


To schedule an eye exam with UofL Physicians – Eye Specialists call 502-588-0550.