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What are crystals in eyes?

What are crystals in eyes?

Crystals in the eyes, also known as eye floaters, are small specks or clouds moving in your field of vision. They are shadows cast by tiny structures inside the vitreous, or gel-like part of the eye. The vitreous helps the eye hold its shape and contains nutrients for the ocular lens and retina. But as we age, the vitreous jelly liquefies somewhat and becomes more watery, which allows particles to float in it freely.

These particles cast shadows on the retina, which sends visual information to the brain. The particles are brought into focus as the light passes through them, causing the shadows and floaters we see. While annoying, ordinary eye floaters and spots are very common and usually aren’t cause for alarm.

Causes of Eye Floaters

There are various causes of eye floaters:

  • Age-related vitreous changes – As the vitreous liquefies, strands or stringy clumps may form and cast tiny shadows on the retina.
  • Posterior vitreous detachment – As the vitreous jelly pulls away from the retina, fibers can detach and float around in the more liquid vitreous.
  • Injury to the eye
  • Inflammation in the eye
  • Bleeding in the eye

The most common cause is liquefaction of the vitreous jelly that happens as a natural part of aging. The older we get, the more liquid this gel becomes. This allows various microscopic fibers and particles to move around and cast shadows on the retina.

These age-related changes in the vitreous and retina account for most cases of harmless eye floaters. It’s estimated over 70% of people have some by age 65. However, any sudden increase in floaters can signal a more worrisome problem.

Alarming Causes of Eye Floaters

While most eye floaters are harmless, it’s important to see an ophthalmologist if you experience:

  • Sudden onset of new floaters
  • Flashes of light in your field of vision
  • Curtain or veil over part of your vision
  • Many new dots

These vision changes, especially when they come on suddenly, can indicate a retina tear. This is a medical emergency as it can lead to a detached retina and vision loss. Other concerning causes of eye floaters include:

  • Bleeding in the eye (vitreous hemorrhage)
  • Retinal detachment
  • Uveitis – inflammation of the uvea, the middle layer of the eye
  • Eye trauma
  • Tumors
  • Retinal tears

You should see an ophthalmologist right away if new floaters appear suddenly or you have other vision changes like flashes of light. Sudden onset of symptoms could mean a developing retinal detachment that needs urgent treatment.

Types of Eye Floaters

There are various types of eye floaters that people commonly report:

  • Specks or dots – These look like tiny circles or cobwebs drifting in the field of vision.
  • Threadlike strands – Long, thin floaters that look like hair or spider webs.
  • Squiggly lines – Wiggly lines that can look like worms.
  • Cobwebs – Floaters resembling blobs with stringy extensions.
  • Ring-shaped circles – Circular or arc-shaped shadows.
  • Clouds or smoky patches – Large blotchy areas with hazy, smoke-like edges.

The shapes and sizes of eye floaters can vary a lot. Many people describe them as resembling specks of dust, insects, hair, spider webs, strings, clouds, or smoke. The shapes depend on the specific structures in the vitreous casting shadows on the retina.

Are Eye Floaters Dangerous?

In most cases, eye floaters are not dangerous or indicative of any eye disease. They are simply annoying nuisances that come from natural changes in the vitreous gel that happens to everyone as we age. However, new onset floaters or other vision changes can sometimes signal a retinal tear or other sight-threatening condition.

See your ophthalmologist right away if you have:

  • New floaters appearing suddenly
  • Flashes of light
  • Curtain-like shadow over any part of your vision
  • Sudden increase in number of dots
  • Trouble seeing

Any sudden appearance of new eye floaters or accompanying vision changes could indicate a retinal detachment or other emergency. While rare, a detached retina causes vision loss and blindness if not treated immediately. It’s always better to be safe and see your eye doctor promptly if you have any new disturbances in vision.

Diagnosing Eye Floaters

An ophthalmologist can diagnose ordinary eye floaters through a simple eye exam and visual history. They will perform tests to thoroughly evaluate your vision and the health of your eyes.

Tests may include:

  • Visual acuity exam
  • Eye pressure test
  • Retinal exam
  • Slit lamp exam
  • Dilated eye exam

These tests allow examination of the retina and vitreous for any abnormalities, inflammation, bleeding, tears, or retinal detachment. Your ophthalmologist will ask about your symptoms and when you first noticed the floaters. Duration of symptoms and any other vision changes helps determine if they are benign age-related floaters or a potential medical emergency.

Treating Eye Floaters

Unfortunately treatment options are limited for most ordinary eye floaters that are simply caused by aging:

  • Observation – No treatment beyond regular eye exams to monitor any changes.
  • Reassurance – Your doctor can provide reassurance that benign age-related floaters are common and not vision threatening.
  • Sunglasses – Dark glasses can help visually mask floaters.
  • Eye drops – Lubricating eye drops may help if dry eyes make floaters more bothersome.
  • Surgery – An ophthalmologist may recommend vitrectomy in cases of severe, persistent floaters affecting quality of life.

There is no medication to eliminate eye floaters. Laser treatment also does not work on them. Vitrectomy surgery to remove the vitreous jelly is an option in rare, severe cases. But surgery comes with risks like infection, bleeding, retinal tears, glaucoma, and cataracts.

Most people adjust to even annoying floaters without any treatment. However, any sudden appearance of new floaters or other vision changes should be evaluated right away to check for retinal tears or detachment.

Preventing Eye Floaters

There is no known way to prevent age-related eye floaters. But protecting your eyes may help reduce some secondary causes:

  • Wear protective eyewear when playing sports or doing risky activities.
  • Treat eye infections promptly.
  • Manage chronic conditions like diabetes that increase eye complications.
  • Eat a healthy diet with antioxidants like lutein and zeaxanthin.
  • Don’t smoke – smoking is associated with increased floaters.
  • Get regular dilated eye exams.

While bothersome, ordinary eye floaters are harmless and very common as people get older. But any sudden increase in number of dots and floaters, flashes of light, or curtain-like shadows should be evaluated immediately to check for a torn or detached retina that could threaten your vision if not treated right away.


Eye floaters are caused by age-related changes in the vitreous gel in the eye that allows debris and protein strands to cast shadows on the retina. While mostly harmless, new onset floaters or other vision changes can signal a retinal tear or detachment. See an ophthalmologist immediately if new floaters appear suddenly, you have flashes of light, or any other vision disturbances.