If you've ever seen small, blurry, unfamiliar patches "float" through your field of vision, you probably freaked out a little bit. It can be pretty scary — but just as you start worrying, the floaters often disappear. So what gives?
According to Harvard Medical School, floaters in the eyes are common for many people — and they can look slightly different for each person. But basically, a "floater" is a catchall name for the specks, threads, or cobweb-like images that can move through your field of vision. They occur when a small cluster of cells or protein becomes lodged in the clear, stable gel that supports the back portion of your eyeball. So what you're seeing isn't actually the floater itself, but the shadow it's casting. The good news? While freaky, they are usually harmless.
Most floaters are caused by age-related changes of the eyes, according to the Mayo Clinic. As we get older, the gel in the back our our eyes tends to get more liquid-y. This can cause some cells or bits of protein to clump together more easily than before. If you've ever had eye surgery or have been injected with an eye medication, you may also see more floaters than someone who's never had such a procedure. Interestingly enough, experts say floaters are also more common in people who are nearsighted. But more often than not, floaters are simply part of the natural aging process.
However, there are a few times when floaters in the eyes can indicate a big problem, especially when the underlying cause is inflammation, bleeding in the eye, a torn retina, infection, or an eye injury. According to Mayo Clinic, you should see an eye specialist immediately if you start noticing many more floaters than you usually get, a sudden onset of new floaters, flashes of light in the same eye as the floaters, or darkness on any side (or sides) of your vision.
Experts say severe floaters can be removed with surgery if absolutely necessary, but such extreme measures typically aren't needed. Most floaters require no treatment at all but simply disappear with time — sometimes it just takes minutes. So the next time you spot a floater, take a deep breath and try to relax. You should hopefully be in the "clear" before you know it!