Eye floaters appear as dots or strings in your vision. If you’re seeing them, you probably want to know why! At Eye On Health here in Phoenix, our optometrist cares about answering your eye and vision-related questions.
We love educating our patients, and this common topic comes up for a lot of people. In most cases, age-related changes in the back of the eye cause these floaters. The vitreous, a jelly-like substance in our eyes, becomes more liquidity or thicker with age.
While this eye issue is annoying, we hope to reassure you that most of the time floaters are normal. But keep reading to find out when they aren’t!
Ever swat at a fly only to realize there isn’t actually a fly there? What a strange moment. It’s a common way people experience floaters for the first time, so know you’re not alone.
It seems like they’re in the front of your eyes, but they’re actually floating in vitreous gel in the back. When light hits the front of our eyes, it casts shadows on our retina. The retina is a sensitive layer covering the inside of our eyes and detects light.
Image: Mayo Clinic
So those tiny little specs float around inside your eyeball! (We think it’s kinda neat – as long as it’s not indicating a serious medical issue.) Because floaters cast shadows when light enters your eye, you may notice them more on a bright blue sky or snowy white background — when light reflects more intensely.
The main cause of floaters happens when the vitreous gel in the back of our eyes changes as we age. (Ah, the fun “age” word we know you love reading about. But in keeping with our name, we like to offer valuable insight so you keep a watchful Eye On Health.)
As we get older, the vitreous gel begins to thicken or gets more liquidity. When either of these occurs, small pieces of the vitreous can pull away from the back of the eye (retina) and float around the back of your eye. 
You may notice: As you move your eye left or right, the floaters move. It’s because they’re actually moving! Floaters occur during the normal aging process, but keep reading to learn when they’re considered a medical emergency.
These “normal” reasons don’t make seeing floaters any less annoying, and we get that. It’s important to note that some medical conditions may increase your chances of having floaters, like diabetic retinopathy.
The symptoms of this eye issue are pretty straightforward — you see little shapes and spots moving around in your vision. Most of the time, they eventually settle out of view. And over time, your brain learns to ignore them (whew!).
In very, very rare cases severe floaters need to be surgically removed by a specialist.
Sometimes floaters change, so it helps to know when you should visit your eye doctor.
Most of the time, floaters are normal. But there are always outliers in everything, right? We want you to know when it’s time to take action to save your eyesight.
When floaters increase or are associated with other symptoms – a very serious situation develops. When the vitreous gel changes in our eyes, it can pull on and damage the retina.
This pulling sensation causes flashes of light, and in severe cases, can cause a retinal tear — which is a medical emergency. Retinal tearing can lead to retinal detachment and blindness. We’re not trying to scare you! The more you know, the better prepared you are to prevent these emergencies.
If you experience light flashes or any other symptoms listed above, get yourself to an eye doctor immediately.
A study found that people with more than ten floaters and flashes of light in one eye had a greater chance of a retinal tear.  So pay attention to your symptoms and remember these warning signs.
When the retina tears, some people notice a sudden burst of floaters or experience very cloudy areas in their vision. Take these symptoms seriously to preserve your eye health and vision.
Most floaters are normal and simply a nuisance. But now you know when it’s time to call us. Depending on your symptoms, we’ll get you straight into our office or send you right to the specialist.
Understanding natural and age-related conditions provides insight around your personal vision changes. Routine eye exams keep track of your eyes’ progression and monitor your overall eye health too.
Dr. Balocca keeps an expert eye on your health. (See what we did there?)
He calls Phoenix home and prides himself on compassionate, quality eye care for all his local patients. He loves caring for the wonderful residents of Sun City West and Vistancia too. He’s an experienced optometrist — and ready to be your eye doctor!