Floaters are spots that appear in your vision. They can look like strings, specks, hairs, cobwebs, or squiggles, and they often dart away when you try to look at them directly. Most of the time, floaters are harmless. They’re caused when the vitreous, the jelly-like substance that fills most of your eye, slowly shrinks and separates. The separation of the vitreous into watery fluid and wavy collagen fibers is what causes floaters in your vision.
Some people are more likely to get floaters than others. If you are nearsighted, diabetic, or have had cataract surgery, you have an increased likelihood of seeing these wavy specks.
Most of the time, there’s no reason to get rid of floaters. Many people learn to ignore them, and they often tend to settle at the bottom of the eye. In some situations, laser treatment may be appropriate to remove benign floaters, but this procedure is often not worth the risk for most patients.
Signs that you need to contact your eye doctor include: seeing a much larger amount of floaters than usual; a sudden increase in new floaters; flashes of light; or tunnel vision—also known as peripheral vision loss—are all indicators that you may need immediate medical attention. These could be signs of a retinal detachment, a condition that threatens your vision when not treated quickly by a physician.
Some other conditions mimic floaters, like the aura associated with some types of migraine headaches. This is often more a visual disturbance, and can involve both eyes. It could last a few minutes, but will typically resolve when the migraine symptoms resolve.
If you’re concerned about floaters, ask your doctor for further information.