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Types of eye floaters

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Eye floaters can look different to different people, from varying shapes and shades to wiggly or wavy lines to small black spots in your vision. Two people with eye floaters may both claim to be “seeing spots” but, in reality, they are seeing very different things.

Floaters are usually less of a medical concern and more of a visual annoyance. Many times they appear gradually, seemingly for no reason. When they’re benign, or harmless, they tend to fade over time. After their initial appearance, there’s a good chance you’ll start to notice them less and less.

Floaters can sometimes be cause for concern. Most importantly, a sudden increase in floaters (especially if accompanied by flashes of light) could be a symptom of a retinal detachment. A detached retina is a medical emergency that requires immediate attention. 

Rarely, floaters can relate to infection, inflammation or bleeding within the eye itself. 

If you’ve recently begun seeing spots or begin to experience new or unusual floaters, schedule an appointment with an eye doctor.

SEE RELATED: What causes eye floaters?

Wavy, squiggly or cobweb-shaped

The most common floaters are the ones that look like wavy or squiggly lines in your vision. They can be referred to as “cobweb” floaters, because they tend to drift around your vision like broken pieces of a cobweb.

These floaters, like the others listed below, form when the gel-like fluid inside the eye (vitreous humor) shrinks. This causes tiny fibers to bunch together in the form of visible eye floaters.

Spots and other rounded shapes

Some floaters might be shaped more like little rounded spots or oblong ovals. Rounded floaters are technically the same type as wavy floaters — the only difference is the shape of the vitreous fiber formation.

Ring-shaped

Larger ring-shaped floaters are called Weiss rings. Weiss rings form when the vitreous detaches from the part of the retina that surrounds the optic nerve in  the back of the eye.

Like other shapes of floaters, ring floaters are usually harmless. But they can also be a symptom of a serious condition.

SEE RELATED: Do eye floaters go away on their own?

Transparent, shadowy or black floaters

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Eye floaters can be nearly transparent, slightly shadowy or almost black.

The color of someone’s floaters can vary just like their shapes. Eye floaters can be nearly transparent, slightly shadowy or almost completely black.

While some floaters are longer and more wormlike in appearance, others can look like little more than black spots or dots in your vision.

Regardless of their color, floaters tend to be most visible when you’re looking at a single-colored object in bright light. A clear, daytime sky or a light-colored wall are common examples.

Seeing “stars” in your vision

It’s common for people to see “stars” or little flashes of light in their vision from time to time. These flashes (photopsia) aren’t physical formations like floaters, but they can be related.

Floaters occur when small fibers of collagen (protein) in the vitreous clump together, forming “floating” strands in our vision. When the thicker portion of the vitreous that’s attached to the retina starts pulling away from it, the traction (pulling) on the retina causes the sensation of a flash of light.  

Flashes of light also can be a symptom of a retinal tear or detachment. If you suddenly see flashes of light, see an eye doctor immediately.

Check with your eye doctor

If you experience new floaters or an increase in existing floaters, make sure to schedule a comprehensive eye exam.

Floaters are usually harmless, but there are situations in which they can represent a serious condition that needs to be treated immediately.

Your eye doctor will dilate your pupil and examine the interior of your eye to determine if your floaters are harmless or require treatment.

READ MORE: Can you reduce floaters naturally?

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Gary Heiting, OD

Gary Heiting, OD, is a former senior editor of AllAboutVision.com. Dr. Heiting has more than 30 years of experience as an eye care provider, health educator and consultant to the eyewear ... Read more