This is because a sudden increase in floaters, or floaters accompanied by any of the other symptoms above, can be an indication of a retinal tear or a detached retina. If your floaters are caused by a retinal tear or a detached retina, you will need surgery right away to prevent vision loss.¹
In this scenario, your optometrist or doctor will probably give you a dilated eye exam. This means they’ll give you eye drops to dilate your pupils, so they can see more of the inside of your eye and your retina.⁴ After the exam you may have blurred vision and be more sensitive to light for a few hours, because your pupils will still be dilated. You shouldn’t drive yourself home from the appointment, and it’s also a good idea to bring sunglasses.⁴
Based on this eye exam, your optometrist or doctor will be able to tell whether your floaters are caused by something serious. If so they can arrange for you to have urgent treatment.
Eye floaters treatment
Eye floaters often do not need treatment. Usually, they’re harmless and are caused by changes in the shape of the vitreous fluid inside your eyeball. This is more common as you get older. Threads of the fluid can sometimes clump together and cast shadows onto your retina (the layer of cells at the back of your eyeball that detects the light coming into your eye). You may see dots, threads or squiggly lines floating across your field of vision and will improve with time in most cases.¹,²,³
However, sometimes eye floaters can be a symptom of a more serious problem, such as a retinal tear or retinal detachment. This is where the retina is torn or comes loose from the back of your eye. If this happens, it needs urgent treatment to prevent vision loss.¹,²,³
If your floaters have appeared suddenly or there’s been a sudden increase in the number of them, this might indicate that you have a retinal tear or retinal detachment. Other symptoms of retinal tears or retinal detachment include flashes of light, blurry vision, or a dark “curtain” or shadow moving across your field of vision. If you have these symptoms or a sudden increase in floaters, you should see an optometrist or a doctor as soon as possible. It could mean you need emergency treatment.¹,²,³
The same is true of flashing lights in your field of vision. Eye flashes often don’t need treatment, because they’re usually caused by changes in the shape of your vitreous fluid. However, if they come on suddenly or after an eye injury or eye surgery, or if they’re accompanied by blurry vision or a dark shadow across your field of vision, then they might be a symptom of a retinal tear or retinal detachment, and you might need emergency treatment.³
If your optometrist or doctor suspects that you might have a retinal tear or retinal detachment, they’ll give you a dilated eye exam. This involves giving you eye drops to dilate your pupils, so they can get a better view of the back of your eye. They’ll have a look for any tears or signs of detachment. The eye drops are not a treatment for floaters themselves; they just dilate your eyes to make it easier for your optometrist or doctor to look at them and diagnose you. The drops will leave your pupils dilated for several hours after the eye exam. This can give you blurred vision or make you more sensitive to light for a few hours.⁴
If your eye floaters turn out to be caused by a retinal tear or retinal detachment, you’ll need surgery as soon as possible to prevent vision loss. This surgery can be done under local anaesthetic.
For a retinal tear, your doctor can use laser therapy or cryotherapy (freezing treatment) to seal the tear.³,⁶
For a retinal detachment, your doctor will probably remove the vitreous jelly from inside your eyeball (vitrectomy) and replace it with a bubble of gas or silicone oil. This holds your retina in place and helps it to heal. If the detachment is small and uncomplicated, your doctor may be able to just inject the gas without removing any vitreous jelly. Eventually the gas will disappear by itself by being absorbed into the blood and is breathed out through the lungs. However, silicone oil will need to be removed.³
These surgeries have a high success rate³ and will very likely prevent vision loss from a retinal tear or retinal detachment. They can also cure your eye floaters.
However, you will probably need around 2 to 6 weeks to recover from the surgery and return to normal vision. During this recovery time, your vision may be blurry, and your eye may be sore and red. You can take over-the-counter painkillers to help with the soreness. While you have a bubble of gas in your eye, you may need to avoid flying.⁶
Many people experience long-term, harmless eye floaters, which don’t indicate a serious problem like retinal detachment. However, these floaters can still be irritating and affect your vision. If you have eye floaters that are interfering with your everyday life, your optometrist or doctor may suggest options for eye floater removal.