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Symptoms of floaters

NHS Choices Medical Reference

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If you have floaters, you may not notice them all of the time. When your eyes are still or you are gazing into space, you may see them drift slowly across your field of vision.

Floaters are usually grey and semi-transparent. They may appear to move quickly when you move your eyes to look in different directions.

However, floaters do not tend to follow eye movement precisely, and will often seem to dart away as you try to look directly at them.

Floaters are often most noticeable when you are looking at a light-coloured background, such as a white wall or clear sky.

Different forms of floaters

Floaters can occur in a variety of different forms. They may appear as:

  • dots 
  • circles 
  • lines 
  • cobwebs 
  • other shapes

You may have many small floaters in your field of vision or just one or two larger ones. Most floaters are small and quickly move out of your field of vision.

Larger floaters can be distracting and may make activities involving high levels of concentration, such as reading or driving, difficult.

When to visit your optician

Floaters are usually harmless and do not significantly affect your vision. However, it's important you have your eyes checked by an optician regularly (at least once every two years).

Find an optician near you.

You should visit your optician immediately if a new floater suddenly appears, or if there is a rapid increase in the number of floaters you can see. They may refer you to an ophthalmologist (a specialist in diagnosing and treating eye conditions).

Occasionally, floaters can be a symptom of retinal tears or retinal detachment . The ophthalmologist will check for this by examining your retina (the light-sensitive cells at the back of the eye).

If your retina is detached, you will usually experience:

If you think you may have retinal detachment, seek immediate medical attention from either your GP or optician.

Read more about diagnosing floaters.

Medical Review: November 13, 2012

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