Those Darn Floaters

What are those irritating spots in my eyes and will they ever go away? Sound familiar?

Floaters are a common nuisance for most adults and are due to our aging process. At a young age, the vitreous (the gel-like substance in the eye) is transparent, but as one ages, imperfections gradually develop. The common type of floater, which is present in most people’s eyes, is due to degenerative changes of the vitreous humo. Most often it is due to the separation of the vitreous gel from the back of the eye (the retina). Floaters are visible because of the shadows they cast on the retina or refraction of the light that passes through them and can appear as just one spot or together with several others that will cover more space. They may appear as spots, threads or fragments of cobwebs which float slowly before the eyes. As these objects exist within the eye itself, they are not optical illusions but are entoptic phenomena.

Although floaters may be annoying, they usually do not interfere with your vision so much that you can’t perform daily tasks. Normally, your brain learns to ignore floaters, and you function well. Should you ever be concerned about floaters? The answer is most definitely yes! Although most eye floaters can be chalked up to a normal part of the aging process, some cases require medical attention — sometimes urgently.

As stated, most commonly floaters are due to the aging process which consists of the separation of the vitreous gel from the back of the eye (the retina). Occasionally, this can lead to a retinal tear and/or detachment, and so an examination from an ophthalmologist is very important if you have new floaters. It can also be due to bleeding in the eye. This can be from diabetes, high blood pressure, trauma to the eye or even sneezing very hard. The first thing you need to make sure is that the floaters didn’t occur as part of a retinal tear, as that can lead to a retinal detachment and blindness if not repaired.

  1. If you develop floaters, it would be a good idea to be seen by your eyecare provider to make sure there is no underlying medical concern. Most patients are checked for peace of mind.
  1. Floaters that appear suddenly and are numerous (can be accompanied by flashes of light), it is important to consult an eye care provider immediately as this could be an indication of a retinal problem such as a tear or detachment or bleeding.
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