You may have noticed that there’s a strange little speck that looks like a worm sometimes and it drifts aimlessly in your field of vision. The squiggly lines that can also appear like cobwebs are generally known as floaters. About 70% of the world’s population experiences these so-called floaters.

Eye Floaters
Screengrab from YouTube / TED-Ed


What Causes Floaters?

There are times when you stare at a bright background or you look at your blank computer screen, you suddenly see these floating things in your eye. These floaters are not what you perceive them to be – that they are illusions. The truth is, you are not seeing things because they are shadows cast by things you stare at and they are suspended in your eye’s interior. This part of the eye is surrounded by a translucent substance that seems gel-like. This substance is known as the vitreous humor, which maintains your eyes’ round shape.

When you see these floaters, you can think of them as proteins in your vitreous humor and they join together in order to block light. When light is blocked, they cast a shadow on your eye’s retina and you begin to see the floaters.

When Floaters Become a Medical Emergency

Eye floaters are extremely common and they usually don’t mean you have to be alarmed. However, floaters can be terrifying, especially when you see the spots accompanied by flashes of light. In this case, you should immediately contact a medical professional.

In most situations, floaters will start appearing as you age and they can become annoying because they could distract you with what you are doing. However, they would settle at the bottom of your field of vision, so they don’t bother you as time passes. Unfortunately, there are people who have serious cases of floaters where they have an infection, retinal tears, eye injuries, and inflammation.

If you are very nearsighted and you have diabetes, you have a great chance of experiencing severe eye floaters. This can also happen to those who have undergone a cataract operation. If you have floaters and they annoy you, you don’t have to go through medical treatment. There are rare occasions though where floaters become dense and abundant that your vision is significantly affected. If this is your case, you may have to go through vitrectomy, which is a surgical procedure that will remove the eye floaters by means of eliminating the vitreous gel. The floating debris will soon be gone as the vitreous is substituted with a salt solution. If you undergo vitrectomy, you won’t notice any change even when the gel is removed, except that the annoying squiggly lines are gone.

TED-Ed made an interesting video on the subject.