Eye floaters

Eye floaters — when to ignore them, when to seek help

Dear Doctor: When I look at anything with a bright background or at the sky, I see wiggly, squiggly lines. What are those?


Those are called harmless retinal floaters. Eye floaters are small wiggly lines or spots that appear and move around in your field of vision. As you mention, they may be seen most often when you look at anything bright/white or a blue sky.

Eye floaters can be disturbing, but they usually don’t affect your vision.


What causes harmless retinal floaters?

Most harmless retinal floaters are caused by small strands of collagen.

The back portion of the eye is filled with a gel-like substance. As time goes by, small pieces of collagen aggregate in the gel. These clumps of collagen can partially block the light coming in to the eyes and are recognized as wiggly “floaters.”

Floaters can appear at any age, but are most commonly noticed between the ages of 45-70. They are also more common in persons who have had eye surgery or are near-sighted.

Floaters can have many different appearances including spots, dots, squiggly lines, circles and strands.


How are harmless retinal floaters diagnosed?

They are diagnosed by patient history and, if needed, an eye examination by a qualified eye doctor.


Can harmless retinal floaters be prevented?

Good eye health is always important, but it is difficult to prevent floaters. Some say using UV-protecting sunglasses from an early age may decrease the number of floaters one may develop.


How are harmless retinal floaters treated?

Commonly, people just learn to live with them. After a while, they become easy to ignore. Sometimes, they even improve over time. Only rarely do benign eye floaters become bothersome enough to consider treatment.

In severe cases, floaters can be removed by surgery, but this type of surgery has considerable side effects, so the risks and benefits must be considered carefully before proceeding with surgery.


Action steps 

The easiest thing is to learn to live with them. However, if you develop a large number of floaters, or have several that come on suddenly, or see flashes of light, or have any pain develop after eye trauma or surgery, it is important to get an eye doctor examination immediately as this could be the warning sign of other serious eye conditions.

Good eye health is very important. You should check with your personal physician or an ophthalmologist to determine the appropriate schedule for your regular eye examinations.

Dear Doctor: When I look at anything with a bright…