Eye floaters are spots, strings, flecks, or specks that appear like floating material in the field of vision. Some people describe them as blobs, cobwebs, or O-shaped or C-shaped spots. They appear to drift or move slowly around the field of vision. Eye floaters are typically not dangerous, but in some cases, they may be signs of a serious problem. Floaters appear when tiny areas of the gelatinous material (known as vitreous) in the back of the eye break loose. These tiny pieces cast shadows on the retina that appear as floaters. Vitreous syneresis describes a process that occurs with aging in which the vitreous gel naturally undergoes some liquefaction, resulting in small pockets of more liquid vitreous within the firmer gel. The boundary between these liquid pockets and the gel may be perceived as an eye floater.
Floaters cannot be seen in darkness and tend to be most obvious when looking at a light background. Occasional floaters are usually harmless, but seeing many floaters at once, especially if you also see flashes of light, is cause to seek immediate care from an eye specialist.
Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.
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