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Eye floaters are small moving spots that appear in your field of vision. They may be especially noticeable when you look at something bright, such as white paper or a blue sky.

Eye floaters can be annoying, but they generally don't interfere with your sight.

Occasionally a particularly large eye floater may cast a subtle shadow over your vision. But this tends to occur only in certain types of light.

Most of the time people learn to live with eye floaters and ignore them. And they often improve over months to years. Only rarely do benign eye floaters become bothersome enough to consider treatment.

But sometimes eye floaters are a sign of a more serious condition. You should seek immediate medical attention if you notice a sudden increase in the number of eye floaters.

Immediate medical attention is especially important if the floaters are accompanied by flashes of light or a loss of side vision. If you have these symptoms, see an eye doctor right away. Without immediate treatment, you can have permanent vision loss. These symptoms may be caused by:

  • Retinal detachment
  • Retinal tear
  • Bleeding within the eye

Symptoms of Eye Floaters

Eye floaters move as the eyes move. They generally appear to dart away when you try to focus on them.

Eye floaters can appear in many different shapes, such as:

  • Black or gray dots
  • Squiggly lines
  • Threadlike strands, which can be knobby and semi-transparent
  • Cobwebs
  • Ring shaped

Once you develop eye floaters they usually do not go away, though they tend to improve over time.

Causes of Eye Floaters

Most eye floaters are caused by small flecks of a protein called collagen.

The back compartment of the eye is filled with a gel-like substance called vitreous humor.

As you age, the vitreous and its millions of fine collagen fibers shrink and become shred-like. Shreds can accumulate in the vitreous. This can cause a change in the amount of light that hits the retina -- the light-sensitive tissue in the back of the eye. This change causes the symptoms of eye floaters.

These changes can happen at any age. They most often occur between ages 50 and 75, especially in people who are very nearsighted or have had cataract surgery.