What Are Eye Floaters?

And Conditions That Cause Them

close up of eye during exam
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As you age, you may notice tiny floating "specks" in your eyes. These specks, called floaters, increase slowly with age and are normal. Here's what you should know about eye floaters and how they relate to various eye conditions.

What are Floaters?

Floaters are tiny clumps of cells in the fluid in your eye. These clumps appear as transparent, oddly-shaped specks that float over your field of vision.

Floaters will naturally disappear over time and others will naturally form.

Aging and Eye Floaters

Eye floaters are a normal side effect of aging. That's because your eyeballs are filled with vitreous, a jelly-like substance that helps them maintain their round shape. As you age, this jelly begins to partially liquefy, slowly pulling away from the retina. Eventually, the vitreous shrinks and sags, getting clumpy and stringy. It may seem gruesome, but it's completely normal! The debris from this process can appear as floaters in your eyes.

Torn Retina

If a sagging vitreous tugs on the retina with enough force, a retinal tear can occur. You will likely notice an increase in floaters if this happens. Torn retinas should be treated right away, as they can lead to retinal detachment.

Retinal Detachment

If you see floaters along with flashing bright lights, or if you have a sudden increase in floaters, you may have a retinal detachment.

These symptoms are also often accompanied by side vision loss, and can indicate that any part of the retina is lifted or pushed away from the back wall of the eye.

If you are experiencing symptoms of retinal detachment, contact your eye doctor right away, as it is considered a medical emergency. Retinal detachment can lead to permanent visual impairment, or even blindness, in just a couple days if left untreated.

Posterior Uveitis

Posterior uveitis is an inflammation in the back of the eye that can cause eye floaters. The inflammation occurs in layers of the uvea, which is located in the center of the eye between the sclera and the retina and is responsible for supplying blood to the retina. Uveitis is rare, and may be caused by infection, inflammatory diseases or other causes.

While floaters can be very normal, they may signal any of the conditions above. If you notice a sudden increase in floaters, or a change in their shape and size, see an eye doctor.

For more information about your eyes and aging, read these other helpful articles:

Top 9 Macular Degeneration Risk Factors

Top 10 Vision and Aging Tips

Vision Problems and Aging

Watery Eyes and Aging

Why Aging Causes Eye Problems and Diseases in the Elderly


ADAM Medical Encyclopedia. Eye-Floaters.

Mayo Clinic. (2015, January 17). Eye floaters. Retrieved February 18, 2016.

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