Eye floaters

What are these annoying black dots? What causes them?

Kate Harris

Eye Health Advisor
Ask Kate

What are eye floaters?

Floaters are really just small bits of debris floating in the jelly-like substance that fills the eyeball (the vitreous humour). As we age, this vitreous begins to dissolve to create a more watery substance. Occasionally, bits of the vitreous, such as strands of collagen, will break off but not dissolve, instead floating around in the more liquid centre of the eye.

What we see is not the floaters themselves, but the shadow they cast on the retina as they interrupt the light entering the eye.

Some people find that anxiety, panic and stress can trigger eye floaters, but there is limited evidence to support this. Common theories are that the heightened senses that accompany these conditions mean that floaters that have always been there are simply more noticeable.

When should I seek medical advice?

In general, floaters are not a serious problem – they can be annoying but are usually harmless.

However, if you notice a sudden increase in the number of floaters, flashes of light, or the appearance of a single large floater, you should seek medical assistance immediately.

This sudden appearance of floaters could indicate that your vitreous is pulling away from the retina – a condition called posterior vitreous detachment. In some cases this can cause the retina to tear or detach from the back of the eye, which can cause severe damage to vision.

An operation will be required to reattach the retina or repair it if it is torn. Without treatment retinal detachment will almost certainly cause total blindness.

Is there anything I can do about eye floaters?

There isn’t much that can be done about eye floaters. Since they occur inside the eye, the use of eye drops won’t help to wash them out and cleaning the eye won’t help. They aren’t caused by bacteria or a virus so antibiotics and antivirals won’t get rid of them.

All we can recommend is that you maintain a good diet for eye health. This should be rich in vitamins A, C and E, zinc, and carotenoids such as lutein and zeaxanthin. Follow this link for more information on why these are important, and what foods you can find them in. Many of these nutrients can also be found in our Vision Complex, which contains zinc, lutein,zeaxanthin and beta-carotene so is great for eye health.

In some cases a surgical procedure known as vitrectomy can be performed to treat floaters. This involves removing the vitreous humour and replacing it with a saline solution. It is only really performed if your floaters are affecting vision, as eye surgery is high-risk so is generally not performed unless necessary.

Vision Complex – for healthy eyes

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Contains tagetes and blackcurrant extracts, rich in lutein, beta-carotene & zeaxanthin.
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