Floaters are small moving specks that float around in your field of vision, often looking like spots, threads, or wavy lines. Floaters move as your eyes move, and they appear to shoot away if you try to look at them directly. They are not usually noticed until they are large in size or number. Most people with floaters learn to ignore them over time.
Floaters occur when the vitreous, a gel-like substance that fills the eye and helps it to maintain its shape, slowly shrinks. The vitreous is attached to the retina, a light-sensitive tissue that lines the inside of the eye, and this change in composition causes the vitreous to detach itself from the retina. As the vitreous shrinks, its collagen fibres congregate into clumps and strands. These clumps and strands cast shadows on the retina, and it is these shadows that are seen as floaters.
Although floaters are usually benign and commonly occur with age, there are more serious causes of floaters such as inflammation, infection, hemorrhaging inside of the eye, retinal tears, and injury to the eye.
A comprehensive eye exam with dilation of the pupils is the best way to determine if floaters are benign, or an indication of a more serious problem.
No treatment is indicated for benign floaters that do not cause bothersome symptoms. However, floaters can become so condensed and numerous that vision is significantly affected. In these rare cases, referral for a vitrectomy surgery may be considered.
A vitrectomy is a procedure that removes the vitreous gel, along with its floaters, from the eye. The vitreous is subsequently replaced with a saline solution. Because a vitrectomy carries with it the risk of inducing cataracts, retinal tears and retinal detachments, this procedure is typically reserved for treating more serious ocular conditions than floaters.