Do I Need to Call My Doctor About Floaters?

Floaters -- those spots, lines, or other shapes you see before your eyes -- aren’t a big deal most of the time. They come and go and are usually harmless, if annoying. But there are times when floaters could be a sign of a problem.

See your doctor if you have:

  • Floaters that don’t go away
  • A sudden increase in floaters

Also, call your doctor right away if you have floaters and:

  • You see flashes of light.
  • There’s a dark shadow in part of your peripheral, or side, vision.
  • You have trouble seeing.
  • Your eyes hurt.

These symptoms together may mean a tear or a more serious break in your retina. You should treat a possible retinal break or detachment as an emergency. Treatment may save your sight.

What Should You Expect From Your Doctor?

Your doctor may suggest you see an eye specialist, either an ophthalmologist or optometrist.

The specialist will ask you questions about your current eye symptoms and medical history, and may check your eyes after giving you drops to dilate, meaning widen, your pupils. This allows the doctor to see inside your eyes, including the vitreous and retina.

The vitreous is the clear gel within the eye that gives the eyeball its round shape. If changes in this part of your eye cast shadows on your retina, you may see floaters.

Your doctor may also do more eye tests. For example, you may have an ultrasound exam of your eyes. If you have a retinal break, your doctor may be able to repair it with special procedures or surgery.

Will I Need Treatment?

If you only have mild floaters without a retina problem, you probably won’t need treatment. If you do, your doctor might use a special laser.

If floaters are severe and interfere with vision and don’t go away after several months, you might need surgery to remove and replace the vitreous, though this is not common. The operation is called a vitrectomy.

Depending on what your doctor finds and whether or not you get treatment, you may need a follow-up eye exam.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Brian S. Boxer Wachler, MD on August 08, 2016

Sources

SOURCES:

American Academy of Ophthalmology: “Pars Plana Vitrectomy.”

American Academy of Ophthalmology: “Eye Wiki: Retinal Detachment.”

American Academy of Ophthalmology: “Posterior Vitreous Detachment, Retinal Breaks, and Lattice Degeneration.”

American Optometric Association: “Recommended Examination Frequency for the Adult Patient.”

American Society of Retinal Specialists: “Posterior Vitreous Detachment.”

Colby, K. Floaters, Merck Manual Professional Version, 2016.

Kahawita, S. Australian Family Physician, published online April 2014.

National Eye Institute: “Facts About Floaters.”

Prevent Blindness America: “What To Know About Floaters.”

Tan, H. American Journal of Ophthalmology, published online March 31, 2011.

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