Eye floaters can be a sign of retinal detachment, but there are many other causes. Some surgeries may help remove eye floaters that result from a detached retina.

Eye floaters are when you see specks, dots, or lines in your field of vision. Although often harmless, eye floaters can signal a detached retina or other serious medical condition.

Keep reading to learn how retinal detachment can cause eye floaters and what other indications to look for.

Eye floaters become more common with age. One cause is when strands of the gel inside your eye, called the vitreous, clump together and cast a shadow on your retina.

Other causes of eye floaters that might require medical attention include:

Floaters are a symptom of vitreous detachment and retinal detachment, but these are different conditions.

Vitreous detachment is when the vitreous pulls away from your retina. You might notice a sudden increase in floaters or flashes of light in your peripheral vision. If vitreous detachment doesn’t cause more serious conditions, you might not need treatment.

Retinal detachment is when your retina pulls away from the back of your eye or changes position. Along with a sudden increase in floaters and flashes of light, you might have a shadow or curtain in your field of vision.

Sometimes, vitreous detachment can cause retinal tear or retinal detachment. This happens because the vitreous naturally moves as the eye does. The vitreous might stick to your retina and cause the retina to tear or pull away from the back of your eye.

Retinal detachment is a medical emergency. Without treatment, it can result in permanent vision loss.

Vitreous detachment might cause distorted vision when there’s also retinal detachment. Vision changes also result from other complications of vitreous detachment, such as:

Because of the risk of these complications, a doctor might recommend a follow-up visit within 3 months of a vitreous detachment diagnosis.

You might notice a few sudden changes in your vision that are early indications of a detached retina. These include:

  • flashing lights or “seeing stars”
  • rapid and sudden increase in floaters
  • shadow in your side vision
  • gray or dark curtain in your field of vision

The new floaters come on all at once. They might look like specks, cobwebs, or lines.

Contact an ophthalmologist or visit an emergency department right away if you have any signs of a detached retina. Specifically, call a doctor if you have:

  • many new floaters with flashes of light
  • shadows or curtains in your field of vision
  • a certain area of your vision that remains blurry

Floaters don’t always need treatment. If they aren’t due to another condition and don’t bother you, it’s possible to leave them alone.

You may consider treatment for floaters if they make it hard for you to see and interfere with daily living. A doctor might recommend a vitrectomy, which is where an ophthalmologist removes the vitreous inside your eye.

Retinal tear or retinal detachment requires surgery. There are a few surgical options for a detached retina, each aiming to put the retina back into place so it can heal. Options include:

  • Pneumatic retinopexy: A doctor injects a gas bubble into your eye. The bubble pushes the retina back into place so it heals back into its correct position.
  • Vitrectomy: A doctor suctions out the vitreous and replaces it with a bubble made up of oil, gas, or air. The bubble pushes the retina into place. If the doctor uses an oil bubble, you’ll have a second surgery to remove it.
  • Scleral buckle: A doctor sews a rubber or plastic band to the outside of your eyeball, pressing your eye inward. This also helps the retina to heal in the right position. The buckle stays on your eye permanently.

Certain aspects of your eye health history can put you at greater risk for floaters or retinal detachment. The two conditions share some risk factors.

Risk factors for floaters include:

  • nearsightedness
  • prior cataract surgery
  • prior swelling or inflammation inside the eye

Risk factors for retinal detachment include:

  • nearsightedness
  • prior eye surgery, such as for cataracts or glaucoma
  • glaucoma medications such as pilocarpine
  • prior eye injury
  • prior retinal tear or detachment in your other eye
  • family history of retinal detachment
  • weak areas in the retina

Here are some common questions about floaters and retinal detachment.

Do floaters from retinal detachment ever go away?

Retinal detachment surgery can involve removal of the vitreous, which might also remove floaters. Some surgeries don’t remove the vitreous, so floaters might still be possible.

Can vitreous detachment lead to retinal detachment?

Vitreous detachment can lead to retinal detachment. One such case is when the vitreous sticks to the retina and pulls it away from the back of the eye as your eye moves.

Is retinal detachment always sudden?

Retinal detachment prevents your retina from working properly. You’ll notice vision changes, such as blurriness, right away.

Sometimes, a retinal tear happens before detachment. The tear allows fluid to go through the retina and lifts it off the back of the eye.

Floaters are one symptom of retinal detachment, but they don’t always signal a detached retina. If you notice other sudden changes in your vision, such as seeing stars or a shadow in your field of vision, experts recommend you see a doctor or visit an emergency department right away.

Surgery is the treatment for retinal detachment. Some retinal detachment surgeries can eliminate floaters. Talk with an ophthalmologist to discuss your options.