Eye floaters, spots occurring in your visual field, can affect us all as we age, including those of us with otherwise perfect eye health. They are usually nothing more than an annoyance, but can become more serious if not brought to the attention of an eye care professional and treated effectively. Today, we’re going to discuss eye floaters and educate you on their symptoms and treatment. Floaters may never go away completely, but this knowledge will better equip you to handle them.
What is a Floater?
Simply defined, a floater is a spot that occurs in your visual field. A floater may be a single spot or you might have a few at once. They often resemble dots of black pepper, spots of eye grit, or small white or bright spots. Some people report increased floaters on bright summer days or after sustained exposure to bright white things, such as paper or computer screens. Floaters are normally benign, but you should speak to an eye care professional if their numbers suddenly increase or if you lose side vision.
What Causes Them?
To understand floaters, you need a basic knowledge of what makes up your eye. The back of your eye is filled with vitreous humor, a gel-like substance that stores your eye’s collagen and the collagen’s fibers. As you age, the collagen shrinks and shreds, sometimes causing floaters. Broken collagen interferes with the light that passes through the retina, causing spots, flashes, and other disruptions. Floaters often occur between the ages of 50 and 75, but younger people are not exempt.
If your floaters disrupt your vision frequently, an ophthalmologist can help determine if the cause is more than simply aging. People who’ve had eye surgeries often experience floaters, especially if they’ve had cataract surgery. Trauma to the eye can cause them as well, sometimes briefly and sometimes more permanently. If you have diabetes, consult your eye doctor about diabetic retinopathy. In rare cases, floaters are a symptom of eye tumors.
Floaters are asymptomatic in that you won’t know you have them until they show up. They will disappear if you try to focus on them. Those who wear glasses may have a harder time distinguishing floaters from normal specks or dirt on their lenses. Be particularly vigilant if you’ve recently had surgery or experienced eye trauma, like an injury, or an illness that can affect vision. This kind of illness might include a high fever or frequent headaches. Let your eye doctor know if you have migraines, night blindness, seizures, or other medical issues that could exacerbate floaters.
Benign floaters usually don’t require treatment, but there is a surgical procedure, called a vitrectomy, available for eye floaters that are frequent and dense enough to disrupt vision. A vitrectomy entails your ophthalmologist removing the natural vitreous and replacing it with a salt solution. Risks and complications include retinal tears, cataracts, and retinal detachment, so the surgery should be considered as a last resort.