What are floaters?
Floaters are small, dark, shadowy shapes that can look like spots, thread-like strands, or squiggly lines. They move as your eyes move and usually drift when your eyes stop moving. Floaters can become more apparent when looking at something bright, such as white paper or a blue sky. Floaters occur when the vitreous, a gel-like substance that fills the inside of the eye, slowly changes, becoming more liquid with mobile bits and strands. The floaters cast shadows on the retina, the light sensitive layer which lines the inside of the eye, which is why floaters appear dark.
Floaters and Retinal Detachment
Sometimes an area of the vitreous pulls its attachment away from the retina, all at once, rather than gradually, causing many new floaters to appear suddenly. This is called a posterior vitreous detachment. In most cases, this is not sight-threatening and does not require treatment, however, a thorough dilated examination of the retina is required with an onset of new floaters. If no retinal tears are found at the initial examination, a follow up examination is recommended approximately 1 month later.
A sudden increase in floaters, possibly accompanied by flashes of light or peripheral vision loss, could indicate a retinal detachment. A retinal detachment occurs when any part of the retina is lifted or pulled from its normal position. A retinal detachment is serious and should always be considered an emergency. If left untreated, a retinal detachment can lead to permanent vision loss.
Anyone who experiences a sudden increase in floaters, flashes of light, or a loss of peripheral vision should have an optometrist examine their eyes as soon as possible.
What causes floaters?
As the vitreous changes, the mobile strands of the vitreous can cast tiny shadows on the retina. These are the floaters that you see. In most cases, floaters are part of the natural aging process. They can be distracting at first, but your brain’s visual system will eventually learn to ignore the floaters so that they become less bothersome.
At times, there are other, more serious causes of floaters, including infection, inflammation, hemorrhage within the eye, retinal tears and ocular injury. If you develop any new ocular symptoms, including floaters, you should have an optometrist examine your eyes as soon as possible.
Who is at risk for floaters?
Floaters are more likely to develop as you age and are more common in people who are very nearsighted.
Treatment for floaters
For people who have floaters that have been assessed and are not associated with infection, inflammation or retinal disease, no treatment is required.