What are floaters?
You may sometimes see small specks or dark shadowy shapes that look like spots moving in your field of vision. These are called floaters. They’re particularly noticeable when looking at a blank surface or an open space, such as a blank wall or blue sky.
Floaters are actually tiny clumps of gel or cells inside the vitreous, the clear gel-like fluid that fills the inside of your eye. They can appear as different shapes such as little dots, circles, lines, clouds, or cobwebs.
What causes them?
When people reach middle age the vitreous gel may start to shrink or thicken, forming strands or clumps inside the eye. The vitreous gel may pull away from the back wall of the eye, causing a posterior vitreous detachment. This is a common cause of floaters.
Are floaters serious?
The retina can tear if the shrinking vitreous gel pulls away from the wall of the eye. This sometimes causes a small amount of bleeding in the eye that may appear as new floaters.
A torn retina is always a serious problem, since it can lead to a retinal detachment. You should see you ophthalmologist as soon as possible if:
– even one new floater appears suddenly;
-you see sudden flashes of light
If you notice other symptoms, like loss of side vision, you should see your ophthalmologist.
Can they be removed?
For people who have floaters that are simply annoying, no treatment is recommended.
Floaters may be a symptom of a tear in the retina, which is a serious problem. If a retina tear is not treated, the retina may detach from the back of they eye. The only treatment for a detached retina is surgery.
Other floaters are harmless and fade over time or become less bothersome, requiring no treatment. Surgery to remove floaters is almost never required.
What causes flashing lights?
When the vitreous gel rubs or pulls on the retina, you may see what look like flashing lights or lightening streaks. You may have experienced this same sensation if you have ever been hit in the eye and seen “stars.”
The flashes of light can appear off and on for several weeks or months. As we grow older, it is more common to experience flashes. If you notice a sudden appearance of light flashes, you should see your ophthalmologist immediately in the case the retina has been torn.