Floaters are small specks or clouds that sometimes move in your field of vision. You can often see them when looking at a plain background like a blank wall or blue sky. Floaters are actually tiny clumps of gel or cells inside the vitreous, the clear jelly-like fluid that fills the inside of your eye.
While these objects look like they are in front of your eye they are actually floating inside. What you see are the shadows they cast on the retina, the nerve layer at the back of the eye that senses light and allows you to see. Floaters can have different shapes such as tiny dots, circles, lines, clouds or cobwebs.
The appearance of floaters may be alarming, particularly if they develop suddenly. You should see an ophthalmologist right away if you suddenly develop new floaters, especially if you are over 45 years of age.
When the vitreous rubs or pulls on the retina, it creates a sensation of flashing lights. When the vitreous gel rubs or pulls on the retina, you may see what looks like flashing lights or lightning streaks. You may have experienced this same sensation if you have ever been hit in the eye and seen “stars”. As we grow older, it is more common to experience flashes.
Flashes of light can appear off and on for several weeks or months. However, as soon as you notice the sudden appearance of light flashes, visit your ophthalmologist immediately to see if the retina has been torn.
Causes of Floaters
When people reach middle age, the vitreous gel may start to thicken or shrink forming clumps or strands inside the eye. The vitreous gel then pulls away from the back wall of the eye causing a posterior vitreous detachment. It is a common cause of eye floaters.
Posterior vitreous detachment is more common for people who:
- even one new floater appears suddenly;
- you see sudden flashes of light; or
- you experience loss of side vision.
Treatment of Floaters
Floaters can get in the way of clear vision, which may be quite annoying, especially if you are trying to read. You can try moving your eyes, looking up and then down to move the floaters out of the way.
While some floaters may remain in your vision, many of them will fade over time and become less bothersome. When you notice new floaters you should have an eye exam immediately, even if you have had some floaters for years.
During the eye examination, the doctors at Eye Surgical Associates will dilate your pupils with eye drops. During this painless examination, your ophthalmologist will carefully observe your retina and vitreous to check for retinal tears or damage. Because your eyes have been dilated, you may need to make arrangements for someone to drive you home afterwards.
Floaters and flashes of light become more common as we grow older. While not all floaters and flashes are serious, you should always have a medical eye examination by an ophthalmologist to make sure there has been no damage to your retina.