Understanding the Different Causes of Floaters

You suddenly notice black spots, squiggly lines, or amorphous shapes in your vision, but no amount of blinking gets rid of them, and when you turn your head, they move with you. 

While this can be startling if you’ve never experienced it before, it’s probably just a case of vitreous floaters, which are usually benign. But sometimes floaters can be a sign of something more serious, so you need to be aware of how and why they happen.

At Omphroy Eye Care in Aiea, Hawaii, Luis C. Omphroy, MD, and our staff specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of floaters and offer same-day evaluations to quickly determine the severity of what’s caused your problem. 

Here’s what we want you to know about the different causes of floaters.

The different causes of visual floaters

Floaters may be the result of several things, ranging from the benign to “drop everything and run to the doctor” severe.


Located in the middle of your eye is a gel-like vitreous, also called the vitreous humor. The floaters you see are solidified parts of that humor. As you age, the vitreous begins to shrink. That causes the small particles to slowly drift through the vitreous.

At the back of your eye lies the retina, the tissue that converts incoming light into electrical signals. The signals travel to your brain, changing into images. 

When floaters are present in the vitreous, they pass in front of the macula (the central region of the retina), casting a shadow or a shape onto the retina. Your brain then incorporates them into whatever image you see.

Floaters are extremely common. For many people, they’re a natural part of getting older. When the vitreous is the cause of the floaters, you generally don’t need treatment. While they are annoying, you adapt to seeing them and don’t notice them as readily. 

It’s always a good idea to get your eyes checked regularly, though, to make sure there aren’t any serious eye issues.


Inflammation in the back of the eye, known as posterior uveitis, occurs in the layers of the uvea. It may be the result of an infection, inflammatory disease, or other condition, and can release inflammatory debris into the vitreous that’s perceived as floaters.

Retinal tears

If the vitreous pulls on the retina with enough force, the retina can develop a tear. This is an emergency situation, because a tear can lead to a detachment and potentially vision loss.

Retinal detachment

Retinal detachment occurs when fluid from the inner eye seeps through a retinal tear. The pressure builds until the retina pulls away from the tissues that support it. 

Retinal detachment often happens suddenly, with symptoms that include flashes of light and shadows and/or a greater-than-normal level of floaters obscuring your vision. 

Like a retinal tear, a detachment is an emergency situation. If you don’t get prompt treatment, you could lose your vision.

Vitreous hemorrhage

Bleeding into the vitreous body can have a number of causes, such as hypertension, blocked blood vessels, and an injury to the eye. It also often occurs with diabetic retinopathy, an eye condition that weakens the blood vessels in your retina. That’s why diabetics need routine eye exams. 

In the case of a hemorrhage, the floaters you see are the blood cells in the vitreous humor.

Other potential causes of floaters include eye trauma, infections, and some types of injected eye medications.

If you notice floaters in your vision, they’re most likely just due to aging, but if they appear suddenly or are accompanied by other symptoms such as flashes of light, you need immediate medical attention. 

Give us a call at 808-491-6513 to set up a same-day evaluation with Dr. Omphroy. Your vision is too important to ignore.

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