Floaters are little "cobwebs", squiggly lines, threads or specks that float about in your field of vision. They move as your eyes move and seem to dart away when you try to look at them directly. They do not follow your eye movements precisely, and usually drift when your eyes stop moving.

Floaters occur when the vitreous, a gel-like substance that fills about 80 percent of the eye slowly shrinks. As the vitreous shrinks, it becomes somewhat stringy, and the strands can cast tiny shadows on the retina. These are floaters.

In most cases, floaters are part of the natural aging process and simply an annoyance. They can be distracting at first, especially apparent when looking at something bright like a white paper or a blue sky, but eventually tend to "settle" at the bottom of the eye, becoming less bothersome but do not go away completely. Most people learn to ignore them.

However, there are other, more serious causes of floaters, including infection, inflammation (uveitis), hemorrhaging, retinal tears, and injury to the eye.

Sometimes a section of the vitreous pulls the fine fibers away causing many new floaters to appear suddenly. This is called a vitreous detachment, which in most cases is not sight threatening and requires no treatment. However, a sudden increase in floaters, possibly accompanied by light flashes or peripheral (side) vision loss, could indicate a retinal detachment. A retinal detachment occurs when any part of the retina is lifted or pulled from its normal position at the back wall of the eye. A retinal detachment is a serious condition and should always be considered an emergency. If left untreated, it can lead to permanent visual impairment within two or three days or even blindness in the eye. Those who experience a sudden increase in floaters, flashes of light in the peripheral vision, or a loss of peripheral vision should have an eye care professional examine their eyes as soon as possible.

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