Floaters are a common occurrence and tend to be more prevalent as we get older. They occur when the gel like vitreous humour starts to become more liquid and small collagen fibrils can then be seen floating around the eye. More accurately, what is actually observed is the shadow that the fibrils create on the retina. Generally, floaters are nothing to be worried about HOWEVER, a sudden onset of floaters, a shower of them or a large floater can be indicative of a retinal tear or detachment especially if they are accompanied by flashing lights.

As we get older, the gel like vitreous starts to shrink away from the retina. Occasionally as it does so, the vitreous tugs at the retina and this traction creates the flashing lights that are sometimes observed. If this tugging leads to a tear then this needs to be treated immediately as it can then go on to develop into a retinal detachment.

Retinal Detachment
A retinal detachment occurs when the retina comes away from the back of the eye. The detachment separates the retinal cells from the layer of blood vessels that provides the oxygen and nourishment so permanent visual loss can occur if it is not treated quickly.


  • The sudden onset of floaters, a large floater or a shower of floaters. Some patients report seeing a cobweb in your field of vision
  • Flashes of light (photopsia)
  • A curtain or a veil in your line of sight
  • A shadow over part of your field of vision

The following factors increase your risk of retinal detachment:

  • Ageing — retinal detachment is more common in people over age 50
  • Previous retinal detachment in one eye
  • Family history of retinal detachment
  • Significant short sightedness (myopia)
  • Previous eye surgery, such as cataract removal
  • Previous severe eye injury
  • Previous history of other eye disease or disorder, including retinoschisis, uveitis or thinning of the peripheral retina (lattice degeneration)

Retinal detachments are an ocular emergency so immediate hospital treatment is required. Treatments will vary depending on the nature of the detachment. If you feel that you have any of the above symptoms, visit your nearest eye A&E department immediately.

How may Floaters affect my vision