|  Find a Doctor   |   Getting to NUH   |  Appointments   |  Contact Us   |  Newsroom  |  About NUH  |  Make a Gift 

Ophthalmology (Eye) Department

Common Conditions:

Aesthetic Eye-facial Treatment

Dry Eyes

Age-related Macular Degeneration


Blepharitis / Meibomitis



Lazy Eyes

Common Eyelid Problems


Diabetic Retinopathy







What are floaters?

Floaters are black spots or lines in the field of vision, drifting with eye movements. They are often described as flies, cobwebs, the letter C or strands of hair.


What causes floaters?

The vitreous of the eye is normally transparent. Opacities in the vitreous will cause floaters.

Vitreous opacities are due to a variety of causes, the commonest being age-related vitreous degeneration. As vitreous degenerates, clumps or strands form within it, casting shadows on the retina. In advanced stages of degeneration, the vitreous separates from the retinal surface, leaving a mark at the point of separation which also casts a round shadow on the retina. The eye sees these shadows as floaters. As the vitreous separates from the retinal surface, it may pull on the retina and results in the sensation of seeing flashes of light. Therefore, the onset of floaters is commonly accompanied by flashing lights.

Floaters not related to vitreous degeneration may be due to blood or inflammatory debris in the vitreous.


Who gets floaters?

Vitreous degeneration is part of the natural ageing process of the eye. This degeneration starts in middle age, so floaters are quite common in otherwise normal eyes after this age. The vitreous of short-sighted people tend to undergo degeneration earlier. Therefore, myopic people often experience floaters at a younger age.

People with diseases of the retina (e.g. diabetic retinopathy), inflammation of the eye, eye injuries, and even after certain eye laser treatment or surgery, etc. may see floaters unrelated to age-related vitreous degeneration.


What should I do when I see floaters?

Those with known eye diseases, eye injuries and previous eye operations should see their eye doctor as soon as possible. This is because the floaters may not be due to vitreous degeneration.

In others, floaters are usually benign. However, vitreous degeneration results in retinal tears in about 10% of cases. This may lead to retinal detachments, which are sight-threatening if not treated. Therefore, it is recommended that everyone experiencing floaters and/or flashes of light for the first time should undergo a full eye examination as soon as possible. This is even more important in short-sighted people as the risk of retinal tears and detachments is higher.

Retinal tears that are detected early may be treated with laser therapy, but if they progress to retinal detachments, surgery may be required.

Floaters that have been present for many months or years are unlikely to be serious. However, any sudden increase in floaters should be re-evaluated.


What can be done about floaters?

Floaters may last for weeks or months, and in many cases, they do not ever disappear completely.

There is currently no accepted cure for floaters. If the floaters are not accompanied by any sight-threatening conditions, no active treatment is required. Treatment of floaters by lasers or surgery is generally not advised because of the risk of complications of these procedures. Although persistent floaters are annoying, most people eventually learn to ignore them.

There is no method of preventing floaters. Therefore, no special measures, eyedrops or life-style modification is needed.