What Are Floaters In The Eyes?

Floaters are small structures that move around in your field of vision. They appear in many different shapes and sizes, and are often described as:

  • Long, thin strands
  • Large, bubble-like spots
  • Shadowy, small dots
  • Tiny black dots

There are three main types of floaters in the eyes. These are:

  • Diffuse Floaters: large, cloud-like floaters with blurred edges.
  • Fibrous Strand Floaters: dense, thin floaters which typically occur in the form of string-like cobwebs and/or numerous small dots.
  • Weiss Ring Floaters: big, threadlike floaters which appear in the shape of a ring.

You may only have one or two large floaters or a lot of smaller ones, yet most are not permanent and move out of your field of vision quickly.

Most people tend to notice floaters most easily when looking at a background that is lightly coloured, such as a white wall. However floaters can occur without you even realising. This is because your brain continuously adjusts to changes in your vision, and so it learns to ignore floaters. For this reason, most floaters are harmless and don’t disturb your vision. Large floaters can be distracting however, making everyday activities such as reading and driving challenging.

What Causes Floaters?

Floaters are microscopic pieces of debris that float in the eye’s vitreous humour. The vitreous humour is a colourless fluid made up of 99% water, which fills the space in the middle of your eyeball between the lens at the front of your eye, and the retina at the back of your eye. Floaters cast shadows onto the retina, and it is these shadows that you see in your field of vision.

Most floaters are caused by the natural ageing process of the eye, but other causes include posterior vitreous detachment (PVD) and retinal tears.

  • Ageing Process: the risk of developing floaters increases with age. They often occur in individuals over the age of 40, and are most common in people in their 60s and 70s. With age, the vitreous humour in the middle of the eyeball becomes more elastic, meaning strands of a protein known as collagen, can become visible within it. These collagen strands cause floaters to appear.
  • Retinal Tears: by the time you reach 50 years old, the vitreous humour can begin to disconnect from the retina at the back of the eye. As the vitreous humour starts to pull away, it can cause tears on the retina. If this occurs, opaque pigment cells can escape from the retina and move into the vitreous humour where they cause a sudden burst of floaters to appear in your field of vision. These may also be accompanied by flashes of bright, white light.
  • Posterior Vitreous Detachment (PVD): floaters are a common symptom of PVD, an age-related condition that occurs in around 75% of people aged over 65-years-old. PVD causes the more liquid, outer part of the vitreous humour to shrink away from the retina. This causes collagen in the vitreous humour to thicken and clump together, resulting in floaters developing. Flashing lights may also occur at the same time.
  • Retinal Detachment: this is a rare and serious condition that can be caused by a retinal tear. Retinal detachment occurs when the retina completely disconnects from the wall at the back of the eye. Light passes through the eye to the retina, where it is interpreted into electrical signals. The retina sends these signals to the brain, where they are translated into the images you see. When the retina is damaged, the images your brain receives are imperfect causing floaters to appear in your vision.

Some of the less common causes of eye floaters include:

  • Near-sightedness (myopia)
  • Eye injury
  • Inflammation of the eye
  • Eye infection
  • Diabetes

If you experience any floaters, the best thing to do is visit an eye specialist. It could be that they are completely harmless, but it is important to establish the cause so you can determine whether you need any treatment.

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Eye Floaters Treatment

female having eye surgery for floatersFloaters don’t usually require treatment. However if you do notice floaters in your field of vision, you should get them checked out by an eye specialist to ensure that they are not a cause for concern.

After all, there are some cases whereby surgery is required to treat floaters, so make sure you visit an optician at least once every two years.

You may require surgery to remove eye floaters if:

  • Your vision is significantly impaired
  • The floaters aren’t improving
  • The floaters are getting worse over time
  • You notice white flashes
  • You are experiencing loss of vision

If you are diagnosed as having retinal detachment, surgery is crucial since you could lose your vision entirely. There are two main types of surgery offered in the UK to treat floaters: vitrectomy and vitreolysis.


What Is It?

Vitrectomy refers to the surgical removal of the vitreous humour, the colourless liquid gel in the middle of the eye. Removing the vitreous also removes the floaters contained in it, restoring vision. The amount of vitreous removed from the eye will vary from patient-to-patient, but the vitreous near the retina is often removed while the vitreous near the lens is typically left in place. The vitreous that is removed from your eye will be replaced with a sterile saline solution which the eye will secrete out naturally in the weeks following the procedure.

Am I Eligible?

To determine whether you are eligible for vitrectomy surgery, it is important to book a consultation with an ophthalmologist. They will assess your floaters to determine whether this is the best treatment option for you.

Vitrectomy Procedure

Vitrectomy surgery is carried out on an outpatient basis, meaning that you can return home on the same day following the treatment. The procedure typically takes around 45 minutes to complete.

When undergoing vitrectomy surgery, you can expect the following:

  • You will be given anaesthetic drops to numb the eye.
  • If you feel uncomfortable or anxious, your surgeon may offer sedation to help you feel more at ease and stop you from moving during the surgery.
  • Your surgeon will cleanse the skin around your eye and put in place a sterile protective cover.
  • The surgeon will then make three small incisions in your sclera, the white part of your eye, through which instruments will be passed in order to reach the vitreous gel.
  • A saline drip will be inserted, which will replace the vitreous in the eye.
  • A fibre-optic light will then be inserted to allow the surgeon to see, before the operating instrument is inserted and the vitreous gel removal gets underway.
  • The incisions made in the sclera will heal naturally, so won’t require any sutures.
  • You will not be able to drive home following your vitrectomy procedure, so you should make plans to have someone collect you once you’ve been discharged.
  • After the treatment, you will be instructed to use anti-inflammatory eye drops to prevent infection.
  • During the recovery period, you may also need to keep your head help up for 50 minutes of every hour for the first few weeks, as this will ensure the saline solution remains against the treated part of your eye.

Are There Any Side Effects? 

It can take anywhere between four to six weeks for your vision to become fully clear after treatment, during which time your eyes may be swollen and sore.

Vitrectomy surgery is an extremely safe procedure, with 82% of patients reporting significant improvements in their vision. Should you experience any of the following symptoms however, you should contact your surgeon immediately to get the appropriate medical attention:

  • Eye infection.
  • Worsening of vision.
  • Bleeding in the eye.
  • Cataracts: your vision becomes misty due to an abnormal build-up of protein on the lens of your eye.
  • Glaucoma: your optic nerve (which connects the eye to the brain) becomes damaged, causing blurred vision and even blindness if left untreated.


What Is It?

Vitreolysis, or floater laser treatment, is a pain-free, non-invasive procedure. The aim of the treatment is to allow patients to return to normal everyday activities without floaters disturbing their vision. To achieve this, nanosecond pulses of laser light are used to break-up the small pieces of debris in the vitreous humour which are causing the floaters. During the procedure, the hyaluronin and collagen molecules in the floaters are converted into gas. This completely removes the floaters or shrinks them to a size whereby they no longer affect vision.

Am I Eligible?

Your eye specialist will determine whether vitreolysis is the right treatment for you. You will need to undergo an ophthalmic examination. In most cases, the following will make you eligible:

  • You are over the age of 45 years old
  • You have large floaters, situated away from the retina that have a soft border
  • Your floaters have developed very quickly

Vitreolysis Procedure

Vitreolysis is an outpatient procedure meaning that you can return home on the same day and do not need to stay in hospital overnight. The procedure typically lasts from 20 minutes up to 1 hour, and you will often need two or three treatment sessions for the best results.

When undergoing vitreolysis, you can expect the following:

  • You will be given anaesthetic eye drops.
  • After this, a contact lens will be placed onto your eye.
  • Using a specially designed microscope, the laser light will be shone onto your eye.
  • During the treatment, it is likely that you will see small, dark shadows. This isn’t anything to worry about – it signals that the floaters are being evaporated into little gas bubbles.
  • These gas bubbles dissolve quickly, re-absorbing into the vitreous humour.
  • After the treatment, you will be instructed to use anti-inflammatory eye drops to prevent infection.
  • You will not be able to drive immediately following the procedure, so you should arrange for someone to take you home.

Are There Any Side Effects?

Most patients report some mild discomfort, redness or blurred vision immediately following the procedure, but this is not a cause for concern. If these symptoms persist however, you should contact your eye specialist as soon as possible for advice. They will be able to examine your eyes to determine what the cause of the issue is, and will recommend further treatment if necessary.

Although serious side effects from vitreolysis are rare, it is important to be aware of them. These include:

  • Intraocular Pressure (IOP) Spike: this occurs when the pressure inside the eye becomes higher than normal, and can lead to the onset of glaucoma. This can lead to blindness if left untreated.
  • Cataracts: a build-up of protein within the eye’s lens that causes your vision to become cloudy.

What Type Of Surgery Is Right For Me?

The type of surgery that is right for you will depend on what type of eye floaters you have, the cause of them, how quickly they have developed, and your age. This is why the consultation process is so important. The ophthalmologist you speak to will be able to advise you on the best procedure for you by assessing your eyes and considering the factors mentioned above. Fill out the form at the top of the page and we can put you in contact with top eye surgery clinics in your area.

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