What are Eye Floaters?

Small spots that drift across your field of vision are known as eye floaters.  They become more noticeable when you are looking something bright.  They may be annoying but they will not interfere with your sight, but just what are eye floaters?

A larger floater may cast a slight shadow over your vision.  This tends to happen only under certain light conditions.  Some people learn to live with floaters and they ignore them.  You will probably notice them less as you get used to them.  However, on occasion, they may get bad enough to require treatment.

Symptoms of Eye Floaters

Floaters are so named because they move around in your eye and tend to move if you try to focus on it.  They come in different shapes:

  • black or gray dots
  • squiggly lines
  • threadlike strands
  • cobwebs
  • rings

They will not usually go away on their own, though you will notice them less over time.

What Causes Them?

Most floaters are comprised of collagen.  They are part of a substance in the back of your eye called the vitreous.  As you get older, protein fibers that make up the vitreous tend to shrink down and clump together.  The shadows that they cast on your retina are floaters.

These changes in your eye can happen at any age but are common between the ages of 50 and 75.  If you are nearsighted or have had cataract surgery, you are more likely to get floaters.

Though rare, floaters can also result from eye disease, and injury to the eye, diabetic retinopathy, and eye tumors.

When to See a Doctor

If you notice a few floaters and they do not change over time, there is no need for concern.  However, you should go to a doctor as soon as possible if you notice a sudden increase in the number of floaters, flashes of light, a loss of side vision, eye pain, or any changes that come quickly and get worse instead of better.

How are Floaters Treated?

If floaters are benign they do not require medical attention.  If they are annoying you, you can try to get them out of your vision by moving your eyes around; this will move the fluid around.  Looking up and down tends to work better than looking side to side.

If you have a multitude of floaters and they are blocking your vision, your eye doctor may recommend a vitrectomy (eye surgery).  The vitreous will be removed from the eye and replaced with a salt solution.  There are few risks involved with the procedure but there is the possibility of a detached or torn retina or cataracts.

A vitrectomy is performed by an ophthalmologist who has special training to treat problems with the retina.  The doctor will use small tools to remove the vitreous gel and at the end of the surgery he may inject an oil or gas bubble into the eye to lightly press the retina into the wall of the eye.  If oil is used, it will need to be taken out once the eye has healed.

Sometimes the surgery is done as an outpatient surgery and sometimes you will be required to stay at the hospital for the night.  Surgery lasts about 2 to 3 hours and the doctor may use a local or general anesthesia.  Once home you may have to keep your head in a certain position to help the gas or oil bubble push against the detachment.

If you’ve ever wondered what eye floaters are and would like a consultation, you can contact Laser for Eyes in the Orange County area.  They will be able to answer questions you may have about floaters and give you further advice on how to deal with them.