Floaters are shapes that may appear as dots, clouds, threads, or cobwebs that drift across your field of vision. Tiny clusters of cells or protein develop in the vitreous gel that fills the middle of your eye. These cast shadows on the retina, which your brain perceives as floaters.
Floaters move as your eyes move and may appear to vanish when trying to look at them directly. Floaters are usually most noticeable when looking at something of a uniformly colour or brightness, for example, the sky or a white background. Floaters occur more frequently as your eyes age. Over time, the vitreous shrinks and can completely separate from the retina, a condition known as posterior vitreous detachment or separation (PVD or PVS). Patients with a PVD experience a significant increase in floaters. Fortunately, over time the floaters tend to become less noticeable. This is either because they float downwards and out of the field of view, or because the brain learns to disregard the floaters.
As mentioned, floaters are usually caused by benign clusters of cells or protein but can also be caused by more serious conditions in which blood or pigment is floating in the vitreous. Therefore, while frequently benign floaters can also be a sign of serious problems like retinal tearing or detachment, bleeding in the eye, or inflammation in the eye. These conditions can lead to permanent vision loss if left untreated. If you are noticing new floaters within your field of vision, it is important these are assessed promptly.
In cases where floaters are benign and not caused by a serious eye condition, they tend to resolve spontaneously after a few months. In a minority of patients the floaters will persist and cause disabling vision problems that can be treated with a floaters-only vitrectomy or floaterectomy.