Floaters: Is That Spot In My Vision a Problem

What Are Floaters

Floaters are usually dark spots which move in your vision.  They may be various sizes, shapes and numbers, but they all move back and forth with eye movement.  Floaters are usually benign, but can also be warning sign of a retinal detachment; a potentially blinding eye condition.
All new floaters must be examined by your eye doctor as you can NOT tell if a retinal tear has developed.

Floaters are actually the shadows of opacities which are cast upon the retina.  Most commonly these opacities are due to vitreous degeneration which results in the condensation of the vitreous itself. The floaters, although annoying and sometimes frustrating, can be benign and may not require treatment since they usually settle inferiorly and away from the retina.  Floaters due to vitreous degeneration can be large, are mobile and are generally few in number.  Also, central visual acuity is not affected when the floaters move out of the line of sight, and the eye is quiet, i.e.  does not show any  signs of inflammation.

When Are Floaters a Medical Problem

However, floaters may also occur due to bleeding within the eye.  These floaters present differently than those due to vitreous degeneration.  They are much more numerous and obscure vision both centrally and peripherally.  In observant patients, they will report that the floaters are colored “red”.  In the case of severe bleeding, patients may describe vertical lines of floaters and significant loss of vision.  Bleeding can be caused by retinal tears, diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration, vascular disease and anomalies, sickle cell disease, and ocular tumors, to name the more common causes.   These eyes are also generally quiet unless there is an associated complication.

Loss of vision due to floaters can also be due to intraocular infections and/or inflammation.  These cases generally are associated with a generally inflamed eye, in that there is not only a decrease in vision, but the eye is injected, i.e. the white part of the eye is red.  Additionally, there are often symptoms of pain and photophobia (light sensitivity).

What To Do When You Notice New Floaters

If you notice new floaters you should call your eye doctor and schedule an appointment to be seen. During this appointment the doctor will dilate you and look to find the cause of the floater. Since most are from the vitreous often nothing is needed except reassurance. If there is a tear in the retina often laser surgery in the office will resolve the problem. If there is blood or inflammation sometimes laser, vitrectomy, or even medications are used to treat the problem. Failure to do this can result in severe and permeant vision loss.


Mel Chen, MD
Retina Surgeon
Sarasota Retina Institute
Sarasota, Florida







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