What Are Eye Floaters?

What Are Eye Floaters?

Floaters are a common condition that most people experience at some point in life. They are generally harmless, and in most cases can be ignored, however the presence of floaters can sometimes indicate a serious eye problem. 

What are floaters?

Floaters are small dots or strings that seem to “float” around inside the eye. They are most visible when looking at a light background, like a snowy road or a white computer screen. 

What causes floaters?

Most often, floaters are a result of the normal aging process, occurring when the vitreous humor in the back of the eye begins to shrink. As this occurs, the vitreous forms stringy clumps which cast shadows onto the retina, appearing as floaters in our vision. Additionally, this shrinking can cause the vitreous to pull away from the back of the eye, which can lead to mild bleeding and result in floaters. This is called a posterior vitreous detachment, and is not generally a serious concern.

When should I be concerned?

While most floaters are harmless, they can be an indication of a serious problem inside the eye. One of the most concerning causes of floaters is retinal detachment. Symptoms of a detached retina include:

  • Sudden new floaters
  • Flashes of light
  • A curtain/veil or shadow in your peripheral vision
  • A floater that does not move with eye movement

These symptoms indicate an emergency and should be treated by an ophthalmologist as soon as possible.

Other conditions that may cause floaters include eye injury, inflammation, diabetic retinopathy, and posterior vitreous detachment. These conditions can only be diagnosed by an eye doctor during a dilated eye exam. 

Who is at risk?

Floaters are more likely to occur with age. Those who are very myopic (nearsighted) are at greater risk for floaters and retinal detachment. Diabetics are also at increased risk. 

Are there treatments for floaters?

Floaters are generally not enough of a concern to warrant treatment. If floaters become so severe that they greatly interfere with vision, an ophthalmologist may perform a vitrectomy. This procedure involves removing the vitreous fluid and replacing it with a similar solution. According to the National Institute for Health, this operation carries significant risks to sight because of possible complications, which include retinal detachment, retinal tears, and cataract. Most eye surgeons are reluctant to recommend this surgery unless the floaters seriously interfere with vision.

For most, floaters are annoying but harmless, and should not be a cause for concern. If you are experiencing sudden new floaters, flashes of light, or a curtain or veil in your vision, call Mountain View Eye Center right away: (907) 328-2920. Thank you for taking the time to read our blog, and be sure to stay tuned for new blog entries weekly. 

Sources: 

National Institute for Health National Eye Institute: Floaters https://www.nei.nih.gov/learn-about-eye-health/eye-conditions-and-diseases/floaters 

Written by: Gina Stafford, COA, LDO, ABOC

Posted in: Eye Doctor in Alaska, Eye Health Guide, Floaters

 
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