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Eye floaters - Your questions answered

Some of the most common questions we receive from the public relate to eye floaters, shapes or shadows that can be seen drifting across vision, and people’s experiences with them.

Do most people have floaters?

Yes, to some degree – in healthy eyes, the vitreous cavity is generally mobile and this can sometimes cast shadows on to the retina, which is what people see floating before their vision.

Do people get eye floaters as they age?

Generally, yes, with the exception of very short sighted people with long eyeball lengths who will have marked floaters not related to their ageing process.

As we age, the central part of the vitreous humour becomes more liquid and less firm, and strands of collagen become visible within it, swirling gently when the eye moves.

Do eye floaters get worse over time?

Not generally, but if they do, it is worth getting your eyes checked. If you experience a sudden onset of floaters that have not been there before, especially if they are accompanied by flashing lights, you should seek an urgent review from an eye specialist.

Can eye floaters fluctuate from day to day or throughout the day?

Yes, they can vary in different light conditions and can appear more prominent against light backgrounds. Some people notice floaters more when they are tired or at the end of the day.

Do the shapes of the eye floaters mean anything?

Generally no, but any changes such as an increase in number or frequency or a new onset of eye floaters can indicate a new issue worth investigating further.

Is it normal to see eye floaters when your eyes are closed?

Yes, that can be normal. The normal vitreous cavity and the corneal tear film can all cause floaters in a closed eye but they are harder to see generally.

What are the red flags to watch out for when you have eye floaters?

Generally, people should not be concerned about seeing a few floaters in their vision if they’ve been there for some time.

However, things like a new onset or a sudden rush of eye floaters, red blob-like floaters, new floaters in diabetic patients, floaters associated with a curtain-like defect falling in the visual field, new floaters due to a trauma or injury to the eyeball, floaters accompanied with a red eye or pain - all need to be investigated further by an optometrist or GP. They will be able to advise if further treatment or tests are needed.

How can I reduce the impact of eye floaters in my day-to-day life?

The power of focus is strong. The more you focus on your eye floaters the more you notice them. Whereas if you ignore them, your brain usually learns to make them ‘disappear’.

In addition, taking regular breaks and avoiding working in bright white backgrounds where eye floaters can be more noticeable, could also be helpful.

Khan, Jaheed

Written in association with

Mr Jaheed Khan

Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon

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