Eye floaters are tiny, cloudy-looking specks appearing in your field of vision. If you have ever struggled with eye floaters yourself, you’ll know they tend to be most prominent when you look at the sky, a white computer screen, or anything that has a solid, light color. They also tend to disappear when you try to focus on them and often appear as if they’re drifting around.
What are Eye Floaters?
These small specks are not caused by anything uncommon, in fact, it’s actually quite normal to see floaters as you reach middle age. Your eye is filled with a gel-like substance called the vitreous humour. As you age, the vitreous humour loses its gel-like consistency and becomes slightly more liquid. Floaters occur when small particles, such as bits of tissue, red blood cells and clumps of protein are suspended in a vitreous humour that has become somewhat more fluid.
The reason why these particles are visible to you, is because they’re in front of your retina, which is the light sensitive part of the eye. The retina is located at the very back of your eyeball, so as light enters the eyes, particles located in the vitreous humour cast small shadows to on the retina which end up looking like specks, stripes or cobwebs in your vision.
How clearly distinguishable floaters are depends on where the particles are located within the vitreous humour. Clearer floaters are suspended further back in your eyeball, closer to the retina, which causes the shadow they cast to be more defined. Floaters that are far from the retina, cast a blurrier, less distinguishable shadow.
Can Floaters Be Dangerous?
Mostly, floaters are considered normal and, albeit annoying, they’re actually pretty harmless. However, there are certain instances where you shouldn’t ignore them. If you experience any of the following symptoms, please call an eye care professional immediately:
- You see abnormally large floaters that hinder vision
- The amount of floaters you see drastically increases
- You see a shower of floaters and flashes of light
- Your peripheral vision becomes shadowy
- A gray curtain moves across your field of vision
These could all be warning signs of retinal detachment, a condition that requires prompt care in order to prevent complete loss of, or severe damage to vision.
Mostly, treatment isn’t necessary, but there are more severe cases where eye floaters might be very large, making them particularly bothersome. In the past, the only way to get rid of floaters was with a surgical procedure called a vitrectomy. During a vitrectomy, the vitreous is removed in order to get rid of the eye floaters suspended in it and replaced with a clear fluid. Unfortunately, it’s a risky procedure that eye surgeons don’t recommend often, as it could lead to more eye floaters or even surgically induced retinal detachment.
There is another, less risky way to get rid of eye floaters, a procedure called laser vitreolysis. Durring this procedure, a laser beam is projected into the eye through the pupil, focusing it on large floaters to break them apart. But not all patients are able to undergo laser vitreolysis. Sometimes there are factors that would make the procedure too risky. For instance, if the floaters are too close to the retina, they often can’t be treated using laser vitreolysis.
It is important to remember: in most cases eye floaters are harmless and, subsequently, won’t require any treatment. If you experience eye floaters that are very bothersome, contact an ophthalmologist to find out whether or not you’re eligible for treatment.