Floaters are small specks or cobweb-like shapes that drift across your field of vision. While they are usually harmless, increased floaters can indicate an underlying eye condition. Some people believe that rubbing your eyes can cause floaters to appear. Here’s a closer look at the link between eye rubbing and floaters.
What are floaters?
Floaters occur when tiny clumps of gel or cells inside the vitreous humor (the clear, jelly-like fluid that fills the inside of your eye) cast shadows onto your retina. The retina is the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye that transmits images to the brain. Common sources of floaters include:
- Collagen fibers that clump together
- Red blood cells that break away from blood vessels
- Cells that have separated from the vitreous humor
Most people have some floaters in their vision. As you age, the vitreous humor starts to thicken and shrink, forming more clumps and strands that can cast shadows. Floaters tend to be more noticeable when looking at bright surfaces like white paper or clear skies.
Can rubbing eyes cause floaters?
There is no direct evidence that rubbing your eyes can cause permanent new floaters to form. Here’s why:
- Rubbing may temporarily distort the shape of the eye and displace floaters. When the eye returns to normal shape, floaters go back to their original position.
- Rubbing does not create permanent clumps in the vitreous humor or cause parts of the jelly to break loose.
- New floaters are more likely caused by natural age-related changes than by mechanical force from rubbing.
However, rubbing your eyes excessively could potentially have indirect effects that lead to increased floaters over time, such as:
- Damaging blood vessels inside the eye, causing more blood cell floaters
- Weakening vitreous humor connections, allowing more clumps to form
- Worsening other eye conditions like posterior vitreous detachment
When to see an eye doctor about new floaters
In most cases, new floaters are not a major cause for concern. However, it’s important to see an ophthalmologist or optometrist if you notice:
- Sudden increase in number and size of floaters
- Flashes of light alongside new floaters
- Curtain or veil over part of your vision
- Floaters accompanied by pain or redness
These symptoms can signal a posterior vitreous detachment or retinal tear – conditions that need prompt treatment. Catching these issues early on can prevent vision loss.
Ways to manage bothersome floaters
While floaters are typically harmless, they can be annoying if they obstruct your vision. Here are some tips to help manage troublesome floaters:
- Use bright overhead lights and lamps to make floaters less visible
- Wear sunglasses outdoors to block shadows
- Focus vision on objects and scenes beyond the floaters
- Move your eyes slowly from side to side to displace floaters
- Blink repeatedly to temporarily clear floaters from central vision
With time, the brain often learns to ignore less bothersome floaters. However, see an ophthalmologist if floaters persistently impair everyday activities. They may be able to offer treatment options like vitrectomy surgery.
There is limited evidence that rubbing eyes directly causes permanent new floaters. However, excessive eye rubbing could potentially damage the eye and worsen age-related vitreous changes that lead to more floaters forming. While usually harmless, increased floaters should be evaluated by an eye doctor to check for underlying issues. Using lights, sunglasses, and eye movements can help manage annoying floaters.