What Are Eye Floaters?
Have you ever seen spots floating around in your vision? Have you ever wondered what those squiggly lines are that swim across your line of sight? Some people describe it as an annoying gnat flying around their face, while others experience a cobweb like phenomena in their vision. Floaters are easily seen when you look at a blank, light background. Many people notice them as tiny grayish objects floating in their primary field of vision.
Floaters come and go with eye movement. When you move your eye quickly up, down or to the side, you may see these floaters move in your light of sight, then disappear into your peripheral vision. This phenomena is caused by a reflection of microscopic fibers in the jelly-like substance (the vitreous humor) contained inside your eye, onto the retina.
Majority of the time, floaters are caused from normal aging changes of the vitreous humor and are of no concern. However, floaters can also be a sign of visually threatening eye conditions such as a retinal tear or retinal detachment. How do you tell the difference between a normal floater, or floaters that could potentially be sight threatening? If your floaters become more apparent, are getting larger or increasing in numbers, are associated with flashes of lights or loss of vision, you could have a Retinal Detachment. However, it is hard to tell. So if you ever experience floaters and have never noticed them before, it is important to get a dilated eye exam right away. In the event that you have a retinal detachment, early detection is key to preserve your vision. If caught early or in time, the retina can be repaired by various methods and re-attached.
For many patients above the age of 50, floaters are caused by a Posterior Vitreous Detachment or PVD. As we age, the vitreous humor will shrink and eventually separate from the retina. When the vitreous has detached from the retina, it moves more freely in the ocular space thus causing more prominent floaters.
Benign Eye Floaters and more
Many people develop a condition called eye "floaters" or spots as they age. Floaters can also be caused by injury or strain to the eye. Eye floaters are however, actually a relatively common occurrence for people. While sometimes benign (known as benign eye floaters), they can also be a sign that something more complicated is occurring within the eye. Typically floaters are substances that clump in the eye and appear to float within the eye as we attempt to see. They result from tiny clumps of cells that form inside the fluid surrounding the inside of the eye. Most people see shadows of floaters appearing across their eye rather than actual floaters or clumps of tissue.
"Eye floaters" is simply a generic term used to describe the specks or squiggly shapes people may see in front of their eyes at times. They are common when people look at a light background or plain surface.
Signs and Symptoms of Eye Floaters
During your annual eye exam, your optician or ophthalmologist will likely ask you if you see eye floaters or have problems with things "floating" in your line of site. How do you know if you actually have eye floaters? The most common signs and symptoms for eye floaters include:
Seeing small objects floating in ones line of sight or vision.
Noticing that various objects appear or disappear within one's line of sight
Noticing floating objects in the eye accompanying a migraine or cluster headache
Seeing floating objects or spots accompanied by a flash of light
Sometimes patients experience symptoms they confuse with eye floaters, like flashing lights. These often accompany other conditions. Flashing lights in ones field of vision often result from expansion or spasms of the blood vessels in the brain, and commonly accompany migraine headaches. Other patients may experience jagged lines often referred to as "heat waves" that come with or without headache.
The good news is usually eye floaters are not a serious condition requiring treatments. If you do notice them however, your eye doctor will likely check your eye more thoroughly to rule out any serious conditions or damage to your eye that may be resulting in eye floaters. If your eye floaters do result from injury to the eye your eye care professional may recommend some treatment. If you notice that the number of floaters or flashing lights you see increases it is important you rule out other more serious conditions that may require surgery.
Who is at Risk For Eye Floaters? Just about anyone and everyone will develop some eye floaters during their lifetime. As we age we are all more at risk for seeing "floaters" in our line of sight. People who are nearsighted are more at risk for developing floaters because the myopic eye degenerates faster. Some people including those that are near sighted are more at risk for developing eye floaters than others. If you have had cataracts surgery or YAG laser surgery you are also more at risk for seeing floaters, as these procedures may alter the jelly like fluid surrounding the eye. Chronic eye infections or inflammation may also contribute to eye floaters. If you play sports that involve rough contact, you may also be more at risk for injury to your eye, so consider wearing safety glasses to reduce your risk of injury (and developing eye floaters).
Many people notice that floaters get better or disappear on their own with time. For many people floaters are nothing more than nuisance or something they observe when they are not paying attention to much else. Some people even consider eye floaters something fun to play around with. The next time you are bored, try staring at a blank wall or up at the sky. You may start to notice a few eye floaters in your own line of site. You can usually move them around. They are there all the time, but most of the time people simply don't notice eye floaters because they're eyes are too busy focusing on other objects. It's only when we have nothing else to look at that eye floaters usually become apparent.
If you start to develop new floaters however or the spots in your vision become worse or come with vision loss, you may be developing a more serious condition. Various vascular problems including retinal hemorrhages or diabetic retinopathy can result in the sudden appearance of multiple floaters. Other possibilities include retinal detachment. Always consult your doctor or eye care professional if yourvision changes, it you notice new floaters, or your floaters have increased in number. If associated with vision loss or flahes of light.