Floaters are the dark spots or lines that appear in some people’s field of vision. For most people, they are especially noticeable when looking at a white wall or solid-colored object. These spots may appear as specks, squiggly lines or filmy fragments that float around in your visual field. Oftentimes, floaters move when your eye moves, making it nearly impossible to focus on them. In most cases, eye floaters are not a serious eye condition. However, there are serious eye conditions that can cause floaters, so it is important to see an eye specialist for an examination.
According to the Mayo Clinic, most eye floaters are caused by age-related changes in the eye. These changes are due to deterioration of a thick fluid called the vitreous humour, which fills your eyes and helps them hold their round shape. As you age, this vitreous substance that has a jelly-like consistency becomes more liquid. Parts of the vitreous break away and clump together. This can cast shadows on the retina, giving the appearance of floaters in your field of vision. The size, thickness and shape of these clumps determines the size and shape of the floaters.
Another condition that can cause eye floaters is posterior uveitis, which causes inflammation in the back of the eye resulting in dark floaters. Bleeding in the eye due to hemorrhage or a busted blood vessel can also cause floaters in your field of vision. However, a torn retina is the most dangerous cause of floaters and requires immediate treatment by an eye specialist.
Signs and Symptoms
You may experience different eye symptoms, depending on the cause of the floaters. However, most people complain of spots that look like specks of dirt, transparent strings of a filmy material or squiggly lines. The floaters may settle down after a while and drift back out of your vision. In fact, the floaters may be in your visual field one moment and gone the next. You may find that they are more noticeable when you try to do visual activities like reading a newspaper or typing on the computer.
Most people report visual interference when looking at a clear blue sky, writing on white paper or staring at a solid-colored wall. The symptoms of floaters usually come and go, but if you experience sudden eye pain, flashes of light, new floaters or a loss of your peripheral vision, contact your eye doctor immediately. These are signs that you may have a tear in your retina or a retinal detachment, both of which require emergency attention.
Although eye floaters can be annoying, you usually do not need treatment in most cases. However, you may want to seek treatment if the floaters are severe enough to interfere with your vision. This can occur when the floaters are larger than the average size, or if the floaters are affecting your central vision. This can also happen if the vitreous has deteriorated to the point that you have a large number of floaters in your field of vision.
In these cases, your doctor may recommend laser treatment or surgery. With laser treatment, your ophthalmologist will aim a special laser at the floaters to break them up, making them less noticeable. However, laser treatment can damage the retina, so it is only recommended in some cases. Surgical removal of the floaters is also an option, but the risks of surgery include bleeding and tears in the retina.
There is no way to prevent eye floaters, but some conditions can increase your risk for deterioration of the vitreous humour. Diabetes, high blood pressure and anorexia are medical conditions that can affect the eye’s health, resulting in damage to different parts of the eye. Inflammatory eye conditions like uveitis also increase your risk for developing eye floaters.
In addition, having different kinds of eye surgery, including cataract removal and LASIK, can increase your risk for floaters. Most of the time, eye floaters are a normal part of the aging process. However, if floaters are interfering with your vision, talk to your doctor about possible treatment options.
- Mayo Clinic: Eye Floaters - http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/eye-floaters/DS01036/DSECTION=symptoms
- National Eye Institute: Facts About Eye Floaters - http://www.nei.nih.gov/health/floaters/floaters.asp