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Specks in your vision can signal serious eye conditions

These “floaters” are not just bothersome. They can be signs of potential retinal disease.

Floaters, those tiny specks that drift across your field of vision, are usually harmless and often disappear or become less noticeable on their own. But sometimes they indicate a condition that can lead to vision loss. “A new onset of floaters may herald retinal disease,” says Dr. Jeffrey Heier, director of the retina service at Ophthalmic Consultants of Boston and clinical instructor in ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School.

Retinal detachment

Retinal detachment

Harriet Greenfield

If the vitreous detaches, it may pull on the retina and
cause a tear. This may cause blood to ooze into the
vitreous gel, and a person will see black spots or floaters.
Without treatment, progression from a tear to a retinal
detachment could cause permanent vision loss.

Those pesky specks

Floaters are pieces of debris that block the light shining into the retina—the part of your eye that captures light and sends it to the brain via the optic nerve. The debris is usually made of pieces of the vitreous—a thick, jelly-like substance that fills the center of your eye and attaches to the retina. Aging causes the vitreous to liquefy and break apart; parts of the vitreous that don’t liquefy can be perceived as spots or lines in the eye. “A lot of people complain that floaters affect their vision and disrupt their ability to read,” says Dr. Heier. But he says floaters often settle over time and become less noticeable.

Sometimes the vitreous detaches from the retina. While noticeable as a large floater, it doesn’t hurt, doesn’t require treatment, and often becomes less bothersome in weeks or months. But the tugging of the vitreous on the retina can cause traction on blood vessels, leading to bleeding, which appears as many floaters, and it can also cause tears in the retina, sending many small spots across the field of vision.

A retinal tear isn’t painful, but it does have symptoms: the sudden onset of brief, flashing lights or a shower of floaters. Untreated, retinal tears can lead to a vision-threatening retinal detachment.

Diagnosis and treatment

If you’ve lived with an abundance of floaters for a long time, there’s little you can do. Dr. Heier warns against treatments that promise to use lasers to dissolve floaters: “Some people say it’s safe, but the reality is we’ve never studied it in an appropriate clinical trial.” Surgery to remove the floaters is possible, but only rarely offered, and only in severe, disabling cases.

If you notice a sudden increase in floaters, you may have a retinal tear and should be examined urgently, notes Dr. Heier. Without treatment, progression from a tear to a retinal detachment could cause permanent vision loss.


There’s no way to prevent floaters, and no nutrition component or supplement regimen that will stop the vitreous from shedding debris as you age. The secret to coping with floaters is patience.

But the good news is that you can help prevent retinal detachment by being proactive if you experience a sudden increase in floaters. And the sooner you get to your ophthalmologist, the better.

Posted by: Dr.Health

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