Floaters: tiny particles in the eye

If you notice objects that look like squiggles, specks or tiny threads that seem to float across your vision when you move your eyes, you may have what are known as ‘floaters’.

Floaters are very common and are usually quite harmless. They tend to be especially noticeable when you look at a plain bright surface such as a piece of white paper or a blue sky.

What are floaters?

Floaters are tiny clumps of cellular debris suspended in the vitreous humour (the clear jelly-like fluid which fills most of the inside of the eye). Floaters can cause visual disturbances because they cast shadows on your retina.

eye

What causes floaters?

Floaters tend to be caused by ageing. As you get older, the vitreous humour degenerates and partially liquefies, causing it to shrink and pull away from the retina. As a result of this shrinkage, the microscopic fibres within the vitreous humour can clump together, forming floaters.

Do floaters need to be treated?

Most people have a few floaters, which generally don't require any treatment. However, if you notice a sudden increase in the number of floaters or flashing lights associated with the floaters you should promptly seek medical attention. These symptoms may indicate a retinal tear or retinal detachment, which can lead to permanent loss of vision.

Last Reviewed: 12 December 2012
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References

1. Mayo Clinic. Eye floaters. Last updated Jan 24 2012. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/eye-floaters/DS01036 (accessed Feb 2013.)
2. RANZCO. Spots before your eyes. Last updated 8 Feb 2013. http://www.ranzco.edu/index.php/patients/eye-conditions/spots-before-your-eyes (accessed Feb 2013.)
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