Eye floaters happen when your vitreous humor (fluid) changes its thickness. This causes you to see squiggly lines or threads. Floaters usually happen as we get older and may not need treatment. If you have a sudden onset of many floaters, see your eye care provider.
Eye floaters are shapes or dots that you may notice when you’re looking at a clear sky, a blank piece of paper or a white wall. The medical name for these shapes or dots is myodesopsias. You might also notice flashes of light at the same time. The flashes of light also have a medical name — photopsias.
You can experience floaters and flashes together or on their own. Both floaters and flashes happen when the vitreous or vitreous humor, lifts up from the surface and pulls on the retina, creating tension. The vitreous is a gel-like substance in the middle of your eye. This process is called posterior vitreous detachment. It’s a normal process of aging.
These solidified pieces of the vitreous are the eye floaters that move around in the vitreous. Eye floaters are almost like little bits of dust stuck on a camera lens. You try to blink them away, but they’re still there. When you look somewhere else, these shapes move with you.
As floaters move, they pass in front of your macula (the center of the retina), which allows you to see their shadows. The retina is the part of your eye that’s responsible for reacting to light and for passing these signals to your brain. The signals become the images you see.
There are many ways to describe eye floaters. Some people see spiders, amoebas or clouds. Your own creativity guides how you think a floater looks. Your description of floaters might sound completely different from someone else’s definition. If you have floaters, you might see:
In most cases, eye floaters are a normal and common part of the aging process. As you get older, the fluid within your eyes (vitreous) shrinks. This is normal and doesn’t mean that your eyes aren’t healthy.
It’s important to maintain regular eye exams over time, especially if you’re experiencing chronic floaters. Chronic floaters usually aren’t something you need to be concerned about, but it’s a good idea to have your eyes regularly checked to make sure there aren’t any other serious eye issues. If you experience an acute (sudden) onset of floaters and flashes, you should see an eye care provider.
Your eyes may not age in the same way or at the exact same time. The vitreous might shrink in one eye a little faster than in the other. Often, you’ll have floaters in one eye at a time. It can happen to both of your eyes but usually not at the same time.
Noticing eye floaters is normal, but if you notice a group of new floaters at one time, contact your eye care provider. Sudden changes in vision, including a number of new eye floaters, mean that you should set up an appointment with an eye specialist.
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
The most common cause of eye floaters is age. For many people, floaters are a part of the natural aging process. They can be annoying at first, but you’ll notice them less after some time. You might think they’ve gone away, but that’s not true. Floaters are permanent and stay in your eye.
Sometimes, they can be a sign of a more serious eye conditions called retinal tears and retinal detachment. In this condition, the shrinking and pulling away of the vitreous causes a break in the retina that results in retinal detachment. This can cause serious vision problems.
Other less common causes of eye floaters include:
Risk factors for developing eye floaters may include:
For most people, eye floaters start to show up between the ages of 50 and 70. However, you can see the occasional floater any time before then.
If you’re younger than 50 and you see persistent floaters, check with your eye care provider. This could be a sign of a more serious eye condition.
Your eye care provider will usually diagnose eye floaters during an eye exam. First, your provider will dilate your eyes so they can get a clear look at the inside of your eye. This allows the provider to see the floaters you have and check on your retina. It’s important to make sure there’s no damage to your retina.
You may need to have regular eye exams if your provider finds floaters. This is a precaution and allows your provider to keep track of how your vitreous is shrinking over time. Going to these regular eye exams can help prevent a more serious eye problem from happening later.
During an appointment to diagnose eye floaters, your eye care provider will want to know about what you’ve been seeing. This is part of the diagnosis process and helps your provider figure out what’s going on with your vision. The more detail you can provide, the better. Some questions your provider may ask you can include:
The most common treatment for eye floaters is observation and no treatment. Even though they can be annoying and bothersome, eye floaters are usually harmless. They usually drift out of your line of sight, and you stop noticing them over time. This can be frustrating for people who notice the eye floaters dancing across their view often, but it’s the safest option in most cases.
There’s a surgical option for removing floaters called a vitrectomy. Your provider may suggest it in case you have many floaters that are affecting your vision. This procedure removes the vitreous and over time the eye replaces it with a similar type of solution. Vitrectomy risks include:
There are no home remedies for floaters.
There aren’t complications of floaters caused by aging. If floaters are due to retinal diseases, your vision can be at risk.
You can’t prevent eye floaters that are due to age, but you may be able to reduce your risk of floaters by managing chronic illnesses like diabetes and high blood pressure (hypertension).
When you’re seeing unusual things in your field of vision, it can sometimes be alarming. Floaters are typically harmless, but they can easily be confused with other vision changes like large spots in your vision. These symptoms can be signs of other medical conditions, like:
It’s always a good idea to reach out to your healthcare provider if you have sudden changes to your vision. This could be especially important if you have a medical history of a condition like diabetes or high blood pressure.
Eye floaters aren’t usually emergencies. You don’t need to worry if you see the occasional floater. You should let your eye care provider know about the floaters and have your eyes checked regularly to make sure there are no other vision issues.
However, if you suddenly have more floaters than normal, reach out to your healthcare provider right away. This could be a sign of a retinal tear or detachment. These conditions need immediate treatment.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
In most cases, you don’t need to worry about eye floaters or occasional flashes of light. They happen as you age and your eye changes. It’s normal. However, if you start to notice significantly more floaters and flashes than you’ve experienced in the past, call your healthcare provider or eye care provider. It’s important to take care of your eyes, especially as you age, and to let your healthcare team know about any changes in vision.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 06/05/2023.
Learn more about our editorial process.