What are eye floaters?
Floaters are tiny specks, spots and worm-like shapes that appear to drift in and out of your field of vision. They’ll often appear to quickly move away as your eye turns to look at them, and gradually fall downwards when your eyes are still.
If you have a few floaters in your vision, then there’s probably no reason to worry. They’re very common, and usually benign. However, if they’re accompanied by flashes of light, or you’ve suddenly noticed a large number appear within a short amount of time, then they could be indicative of a more serious problem.
What causes floaters to appear?
To understand what floaters are, it’s first important to know about the vitreous. Making up around 80% of the eye’s total volume, the vitreous is a clear gel that exerts pressure on the inside of your eye.
Floaters are most commonly formed when small pieces of the vitreous break loose within the back of the eye. These undissolved gel particles float around the vitreous, and are most visible when looking at something bright (like the sky or a white wall).
The vitreous is stagnant. This means that there is no circulation of the gel, and anything within will remain there forever unless surgically removed. The floaters within your vision will shift around, and they may break apart over the years, but they’ll ultimately be present for the rest of your life.
Should I worry about floaters?
In the majority of cases, having floaters should be nothing to worry about. As long as they aren’t obstructing your vision to the extent that it has a negative impact on your life, they are generally harmless. However, if you notice a sudden increase of floaters in your vision, then you should visit an eye care professional as soon as possible.
A sudden increase in floaters may be due to vitreous detachment. This is when the vitreous pulls away fibres connecting to the retina in short space of time. The condition usually isn’t sight-threatening, and doesn’t require treatment.
If the sudden increase of floaters is accompanied by temporary vision loss or perceived flashing lights, then it could be indicative of retinal detachment. This condition is considered a medical emergency, and may quickly lead to blindness or permanent vision impairment if left untreated. If you ever suspect you have the symptoms of retinal detachment, contact an eye care professional immediately.
Is there a treatment for floaters?
In the vast majority of cases, the treatment of floaters is not recommended. The associated operation can be risky, and may lead to complications far more severe than the original issue.
When floaters are so dense that they severely impair vision, a vitrectomy is the most common treatment. This surgical procedure removes the entirety of the vitreous gel from the eye, replaced with a salt water solution.
Laser treatment of floaters is also possible. The laser is able to break apart the floaters without the need for traditional surgery. This laser treatment has, in the past, had the disadvantage of possibly causing collateral damage to the eye’s surrounding structure. However, the procedure has improved in recent years, with modern lasers able to perform more accurate treatments.