Eye floaters are actually more common that you may think. Many people notice specks or cobweb-like images moving around in their line of vision, at some point. Some even report experiencing a "snow globe effect" as if they are swatting at many imaginary bugs. Floaters may be an annoyance, but in most cases, they are harmless and merely a part of aging. Here are some answers to questions you may have about eye floaters including warning signs that something may be seriously wrong and requires immediate treatment by an eye care professional.
What are eye floaters?
Eye floaters are collagen deposits inside the vitreous humor that fills the space between the lens and retina of your eye. As you age, the vitreous, which is made up of this gel-like protein substance, begins to dissolve and liquefy, creating a more watery consistency. Floaters appear when the collagen fibrils and vitreous membrane become disturbed and go into your line of sight. A posterior vitreous detachment is a common age related change that causes a sudden large floater to occur. Floaters can range in size, shape and consistency and are often more visible when looking at a white screen or clear blue sky.
What is the vitreous?
The vitreous functions to maintain the round shape of your eyeball. It assists with light refraction and acts as a shock absorber for the retina.
How do floaters develop?
As mentioned above, aging of the vitreous can cause it to liquefy, shrink and become stringy or strand-like. As the vitreous is normally transparent, when strands develop they cast a shadow on your retina, which in turn causes floaters to appear in your vision.
What will I see if I have floaters?
Eye floaters can appear in your vision as threads, fragments of cobwebs or spots which float slowly in front of your eyes. You'll also notice that these specks never seem to stay still when you try to focus on them. Floaters and spots create the impression that they are drifting and they seem to move when your eye moves.
Who is at risk for developing floaters?
Floaters are quite common particularly in individuals that are elderly, diabetic, near-sighted or anyone who has had cataract surgery.
Are floaters dangerous and do they need treatment?
In many cases, floaters are simply an annoyance and can be left alone. Sometimes they will improve over time. In some cases though, floaters can be so distracting that they can block vision and consequently interfere with daily activities and functioning. If you experience a sudden onset of floaters, if they are accompanied by flashes of light or vision loss, if you have pain or you have just experienced eye surgery or trauma, floaters could indicate a serious eye problem that requires immediate medical attention. There are a number of eye disorders associated with eye floaters including retinal detachment, retinal tear, vitreous bleeding, vitreous and retinal inflammation or eye tumors, all of which require medical treatment to avoid vision loss. If you have sudden onset of new floaters, immediately call and schedule an emergent appointment with your eye doctor to confirm if the floaters are benign or need immediate surgical treatment.